My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past

My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past

Ariel Sabar

Language: English

Pages: 345

ISBN: 1565129334

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In a remote corner of the world, forgotten for nearly three thousand years, lived an enclave of Kurdish Jews so isolated that they still spoke Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Mostly illiterate, they were self-made mystics and gifted storytellers and humble peddlers who dwelt in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbors in the mountains of northern Iraq. To these descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, Yona Sabar was born. 

Yona's son Ariel grew up in Los Angeles, where Yona had become an esteemed professor, dedicating his career to preserving his people’s traditions. Ariel wanted nothing to do with his father’s strange immigrant heritage―until he had a son of his own.

Ariel Sabar brings to life the ancient town of Zakho, discovering his family’s place in the sweeping saga of Middle-Eastern history. This powerful book is an improbable story of tolerance and hope set in what today is the very center of the world’s attention.

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began to read. “They changed her name to Sara,” he said. “What? Whose name?” “The Jewish girl — maybe your aunt,” he said. “How do you know?” “Today, the head of the Hseni tribe went to speak to the Sherabi families, near Syria border, on the other side of the Tigris.” “To Gizronia?” I asked. The town where Lubayd had heard a Gamra and Hsen once lived. “Yes,” Hani said. He looked back down at his note and ran his fingers over the perfectly formed Arabic letters. “An old Sherabi man in

family in nearby Turkey and moved them to the island. The Beh Dahlikas were timber raftsmen (their name means forester). Dahlika, the strapping paterfamilias, went to work right away and built walls, and soon houses, that stood. The Muslim aga’s family moved in. Jews followed. As the balance of Jews and Muslims returned to preflood levels, Zakho roared back to prosperity. If the myth is to be believed, Zakho’s survival had always depended on two things: Muslim-Jewish harmony and timber raftsmen.

sorry,” the aga said. After three months of brutal interrogations in the damp basement of a Mosul jail, four raftsmen deemed too infirm or too young to be culpable were released. Among them were Miryam’s father and her younger half brother, Zaki. Yosef wasn’t as lucky. A military judge found him and ten other Zakho raftsmen guilty of Zionist conspiracy and sentenced them to a squalid Baghdad prison. All received three-year sentences, except Yosef. According to his brother Naim, Yosef refused to

day in the early 1960s, he clicked on the recorder and made an unusual request of the old man. “None of the usual fables today, Mamo,” my father said. “Please, just tell me, if you would, the story of your life.” There was a long pause, and then a deep breath. “Dear audience,” Mamo Yona began, “once, when we were very poor . . .” Mamo Yona didn’t stop until his autobiography reached the very day my father entered his life. “One day, I look, I see this Yona come looking for me, saying, ‘Uncle

familiar. Then came the third text, dated 1670, just one year after the second. If Yitzhok had not signed his name to it, Yona would never have guessed he was reading the same author. In the second manuscript, Yitzhok had written in a neat hand, faithfully copying stories from known texts and rarely erring in his spelling. The third was a mess. The handwriting was sloppy, the spellings off, the original texts butchered. What happened that year? Had Yitzhok been drinking too much arak? The

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