2008 Autobiography Finalist My Father’s Paradise, by Ariel Sabar

by admin | Mar-02-2009

Each day leading up to the March 12 announcement of the 2008 NBCC awards, we highlight one of the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Ellen Heltzel discusses Ariel Sabar’s My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq (Algonquin Books)

When Ariel Sabar was growing up in California during the 1980s, the generational divide between he and his immigrant father was strained to the breaking point. As Ariel writes in My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, his teen-age self could find no sympathy for a dad who had “sublimated homesickness into a career.”

Truly, Yona Sabar was no ordinary father. Born into a community that for nearly three millennia co-existed peacefully with its neighbors in northern Iraq, he was part of a minority within a minority—Jews among Kurds in an Arab country. Its members were so isolated that they were ignorant of the Holocaust and still spoke Aramaic, the language Jesus is thought to have spoken, when they were uprooted and sent to Israel.

There, the young Yona almost succumbed to the discrimination against Kurdish Jews and “the way one’s own culture could slap down hands that reached too high.” But after receiving a full ride to Yale, he came to America, where he married and found his life’s work. As a scholar and professor at UCLA, he became the self-appointed guardian of his native language and literature.

As for the son, Ariel, his field is journalism. After his own son was born in 2002, his perspective about his own heritage changed, and he began the quest to understand his father’s life and the culture Yona Sabar was struggling to preserve. The upshot is an book that operates on several levels: as the story of the relationship between father and son, as testimony to a man with a mission, and as the portrait of a nearly forgotten people. It offers an award-worthy, alternate view of Iraq and its history.

About the Critical Mass Blog

Commentary on literary criticism, publishing, writing, and all things NBCC related. It's written by independent members of the NBCC Board of Directors (see list of bloggers below).


Categories & Archives

Become a Member of the NBCC

NBCC Awards

Finalists for 2017

See all award winners

Find out how to submit

Read how we select

Frequently Asked Questions

Upcoming Events

NBCC Finalists’ Reading: March 13th, 2019

NBCC Awards Ceremony and Reception: March 14th, 2019

NBCC at AWP19 with Paul Beatty and Joan Silber: March 28th, 2019

NBCC at AWP19 The Future of Criticism: A Conversation with Established and Emerging Critics: March 30th, 2019

Videos and Podcasts

NBCC 2017 Awards Ceremony

NBCC 2017 Finalists Reading

All videos and podcasts.