Another Review at MyShelf.Com

Farewell, Aleppo
My Father, My People, and Their Long Journey Home
Claudette E. Sutton

Terra Nova Books
June 13, 2014/ ISBN 9781938288401

Reviewed by Elise Cooper


Farewell, Aleppo: My Father, My People, and Their Long Journey Home, by Claudette E. Sutton, is a book relevant to today’s headlines where Syrians are persecuted for their religious beliefs. This is a story of a not too distant past when all religions lived and worked together, ignoring their differences. But it is also the story of how times changed and once again Syrian Jews faced persecution resulting in the disappearance of a two thousand year old Jewish community that once thrived in Syria.

The author takes the reader on a courageous journey as she tells the story of her father whose world changed with the winds of World War II. It became clear that life as the Syrian Jews had known was ending with the tide of Anti-Semitism. Her father, Meir (renamed Mike), and his brother, escaped to Shanghai, China where they stayed throughout the war. People get a glimpse of what it was like to be in a community so culturally different; yet, able to seek out others in the same category. She skillfully shows how many Jews displaced by the war sought refuge here because of the city’s openness. After the war her father, seeing business opportunities deteriorate, made plans to immigrate to America.

The most interesting parts of the book are Sutton’s description of her father’s arrival in America and the Syrian Jewish community thriving in Brooklyn, New York. While there was only about twenty to thirty thousand Jews in Syria at the start of World War II there is now about seventy thousand living in Brooklyn. A powerful quote, shows the attitude of those living in America, “To my eyes, it seemed that their Syria had not so much been left behind as relocated to Brooklyn. Our identification as Syrian Jews seemed defined not so much by place as by the culture they took with them.” The point is emphasized that what mattered was not the land but the traditions: the food, the Arabic language spoken, not Yiddish or Hebrew, and the tight knit group formed.

Because Sutton’s mother was from the Washington D.C. area and her father needed a job he relocated his family to Maryland. Unfortunately, Sutton’s immediate family lost some of the culture, although they did preserve the food and language. Having to navigate between different worlds the author describes in the book how she felt like a “cultural hybrid, a cross between our shared heritage and my secular upbringing. I was a purebred member of this community, and a visitor to it.” Readers understand how her own family did not see her as an integrated member since her immediate family was not Kosher and did not keep many of the Syrian Jewish traditions. Yet, she also felt different from her Jewish friends since she did not participate in European Jewish traditions such as eating Matzo Ball Soup and Kugels, or speaking Jewish and Yiddish phrases.

It becomes evident that Farewell, Aleppo: My Father, My People, and Their Long Journey Home is a story of how people are shaped by their past. Their identity is based on the family history. Through her father’s world Sutton is able to find her own roots, threading together how her world was influenced by the Syrian Jewish culture. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to explore this rich culture that many people do not know very much about.

Reviewed 2014