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Ariel Sabar explores his dad's past

The result is the National Book Critics Circle Award winner 'My Father's Paradise.'

October 30, 2009|Reed Johnson

His hometown's rapidly receding Kurdish-Jewish character was even more evident when Yona and Ariel returned to Zahko a few years ago. That made Ariel resolve to tell his father's story. "I realized that the landscape and the physical place was going to be gone," he says. "I was aware of this sense of time getting ahead of me."

Something else pushed him to tell the story: becoming a father himself. "People come before you, people come after you," Ariel summarizes. "What are you going to do as the middleman?"

Asked to assess the future of the culture that has consumed him, Yona shakes his head. "I felt I was an undertaker, because I felt this was the last stage of the language," he says. "So I felt what I can do to salvage this heritage is by documenting it in books for scholars who are interested. Ariel's book in a way is a monument to that lost life. Because you cannot restore it physically."

What neither man could have anticipated is how the book's success has spurred interest in Aramaic and the Jewish Kurds and helped reconnect those who were raised in that culture.

Yona now hears regularly from friends, colleagues and former students with whom he had lost touch over the decades. He fields inquiries from screenwriters asking for assistance in translating snatches of Aramaic. He gets e-mails from prisoners who've found religion and want to learn Christ's language. He does his best to accommodate them all.

Not only that, but "My Father's Paradise" has given comfort to relatives who have wondered how they would be able to pass on the old family stories to future generations.

"Now," they tell Yona, "I can give my children a book to read."

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reed.johnson@latimes.com

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Ariel and

Yona Sabar

Where: 314 Royce Hall, UCLA

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Price: Free

Contact: For more information, contact the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies

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