I read the first 100 pages of this book and then I misplaced it. I was very disappointed as I was really into it. And then after some time I found it again. It had slipped underneath my bed from the tiny space between the bed and the wall. When I started reading it again from the point I left, I couldn’t follow the story, so I thought I would skim the first 100 pages again. But I ended reading them instead of skimming. And I’m so glad I did. I understood the book so much better because of that. For someone like me who didn’t know anything about Kurdish Jews or Zakho, I’m actually glad I misplaced it. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to re-read the beginning too. I know that’s just me. That’s just to say how engrossing the book was even the second time around.
In a small and dusty village called Zakho at the border of Iraq, nestled between the mountains and almost secluded from the rest of Iraq, a boy called Yona Sabagha, Ariel Sabar’s father, was born. Yona was the son of Rahmain and grandson of Ephraim, who was a respected dyer and was known to talk to angels. Yona spent his first 11 years in Zakho, a place where where Muslims and Jews lived in Harmony. But somewhere around the time of the Second World War, things began to change. The Arab Islamic movement took hold in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, which resulted in conflicts between the Jews and Muslims. Majority of the Jews from the Arab World fled to Israel. Along with the millions of Jews, Yona’s family too had to go.
In Israel, Yona struggled with life and getting a job and studying. What really amazed me was the courage and conviction of Yona and his friends to become something, to pull themselves and families above the poverty line. When Yona was granted scholarship in the States, he decided to take it. There he met his future wife. So in a way his son Ariel did not experience or know what it was like to be a Kurdish Jew. He was an American through and through. Yona could never really accept the American culture, nor could he go back to his past .So he was in a way strange to his son.
After many years Ariel decides to go back to Zakho with his father in the hopes of getting to know him better and also to close the rift that had divided them for so many years.
I absolutely LOVED this book. It reads like fiction where he describes his father and his life and like non-fiction where he writes about the Kurdish Jews and the history of Aramaic. But no where does it get boring or over-bearing. The descriptions of Zakho, what it was like then and now, were mesmerizing. It was like discovering a whole new world.
The journey of a son to understand his father, his past and his own roots was beautiful, heartbreaking, captivating and hopeful. This book felt like a tribute to his father and the Jews from Zakho who are relatively unknown to the world. Author Ariel Sabar has documented history in the most beautiful way possible.
Very highly recommended. Let me know if you need more convincing.
About the author:
Ariel Sabar covered the 2008 U.S. presidential campaigns for the Christian Science Monitor and is an award-winning former staff writer for the Baltimore Sun and the Providence (RI) Journal. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, The Times Sunday Magazine, The Washington Monthly, Mother Jones, Moment, Christianity Today and other publications. He lives with his wife and two children in Washington, D.C. This is his first book.