Winner of National Book Critics Circle Award: Best Biography 2008
I bought this book after reading Violet’s review. I don’t read much non-fiction, but this one sounded too good to miss!
My Father’s Paradise is written by journalist, Ariel Sabar, who decides to use his investigative skills to trace the history of his father, a man born in a remote part of Kurdish Iraq. His father is one of the last native speakers of neo-aramaic, an ancient language which has almost disappeared due to population migration. Ariel Sabar decides to do everything he can to record the language and traditions of his ancestors, before they are lost forever.
The start of the book reads almost like fiction, telling the story of his father’s life growing up in a small village. I loved this section! In many ways I wish the whole book had continued in this style (perhaps because I prefer to read fiction), but also because I found the sense of community in the village heart warming. I could feel Ariel’s love for the traditions shining through the text.
As time passes the book starts to bring in more historical facts, explaining the political situation in Iraq and why his father, a Kurdish Jew, had to flee to Israel. Some parts of the book book felt a bit dry, but in reality I needed these facts to fully understand what was happening.
The book then went on to describe their life in America and how they set to work recording the language and folklore of the Kurdish Jews. His father became a famous professor, internationally renowned for his work on aramaic text. It was amazing to see how much one man’s life had changed, but I found I was far more interested in his early life than his work in the University. I think this is summed up nicely by the words of Ariel’s father:
Overall, this was a fascinating book but I wish Ariel Sabar would write another one, focusing only on life in 1930s Iraq.
If you’d like to learn more about this book then I recommend that you watch this Interview with Ariel Sabar.