My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar

Title: My Father’s Paradise
Author: Ariel Sabar
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books (August 21, 2008)
Hardcover: 325 pages
Rating: 5/5

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.

arielsabarAbout 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.

Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Havely

Book Title: Triumph of Deborah
Author: Eva Etzioni-HavelyPublisher: Plume (February 26, 2008)
Paperback: 368 pages
Rating: 4.5 /5 stars

I had a sudden urge to read a historical novel this weekend. Since I own only a couple, the choice was easy. I had read a lot of reviews of ‘Triumph of Deborah’ and knew it was generally liked. So I didn’t hesitate to pick it up.

And yes, I liked it. In fact, I loved it. I had absolutely no knowledge about Deborah. So before reading the book I googled a little and found out that she was a highly respected prophet, a judge and a leader of Israel. And the fact that she was a woman and yet respected so much during that era was inspiring.

Okay, let’s jump to the book. Inspire of all her efforts, Deborah is unable to establish peace between the Canaanites and her people. Seeing that she has no choice but to go to war, she decides to appoint Barak as the chief. Barak is very young and inexperienced but she decides to trust him based on his past victories. Barak, although resistant at first, feels like he has no option. He leads Israel to victory against Canaanites.

In the Canaan country, the King gives the responsibility of war to Sisra who also marries his daughter Asherah renowned for her beauty. The King has another daughter Nogah from an Israeli slave and whose knowledge is kept a secret.

When Barak captures the Canaan Castle, he is smitten by Asherah’s beauty, so he takes her as his captive. Nogah accepts a job as a maid in Barak’s mansion. Thus begins a love triangle between Barak, Asherah and Nogah. Barak is smitten by Asherah and Nogah is in love with Barak, but Asherah hates Barak because she thinks he is responsible for her husband Sisra’s death. She waits for an opportunity to kill Barak and make him pay for his deeds.

Deborah, meanwhile, through her prophecies and her visions helps avoid another was between Israel and Canaan. In the end, Deborah, Barak, Asherah and Nogah help in bringing peace to the land.

Deborah is very strong willed and admirable. She is true to her people and is willing to sacrifice her personal life as well. I was surprised that I had never read much about the love triangle in any of the reviews. Considering it takes up more than half of the book, it’s a major part of ‘Triumph of Deborah’. I love romance books so I was in fact happy that there was this angle to it. But I do think some people might be annoyed by the number of chapters dedicated to it. So I just thought of mentioning it here.

I learned a lot about Deborah as a biblical character. The writing style is simple which makes it easier to get engrossed in the story. Although I won’t call it a character driven novel, I felt strongly about all of them; be it Deborah, Nogah, Asherah or Barak. In fact I hated Barak. He was a womanizer and he let his lust overpower all his senses. Nogah, I thought, was a fool for loving a man like Barak. But love has no logic right?

Conclusion: I highly recommend this book. I am definitely going to be on a lookout for Eva Etzioni-Havely’s other books- The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth.

Isn’t this a beautiful trio?


I am adding this book to Orbis Terrarum challenge. The author was born in Vienna, Austria.