The Jews of Aleppo, Syria, had been part of the city’s fabric for more than two thousand years, in good times and bad, through conquerors and kings. But in the middle years of the twentieth century, all that changed.
To Selim Sutton, a merchant with centuries of roots in the Syrian soil, the dangers of rising anti-Semitism made clear that his family must find a new home. With several young children and no prospect of securing visas to the United States, he devised a savvy plan for getting his family out: “exporting” his sons. In December 1940, he told the two oldest, Meïr and Saleh, that arrangements had been made for their transit to Shanghai, where they would work in an uncle’s export business. China, he hoped, would provide a short-term safe harbor and a steppingstone to America.
Farewell, Aleppo is the story—told by his daughter—of the journey that would ultimately take him from the insular Jewish community of Aleppo to the solitary task of building a new life in America. It is both her father’s tale that journalist Claudette Sutton describes and also the harrowing experiences of the family members he left behind in Syria, forced to smuggle themselves out of the country after it closed its borders to Jewish emigration.
The picture Sutton paints is both a poignant narrative of individual lives and the broader canvas of a people’s survival over millennia, in their native land and far away, through the strength of their faith and their communities. Multiple threads come richly together as she observes their world from inside and outside the fold, shares an important and nearly forgotten epoch of Jewish history, and explores universal questions of identity, family, and culture.
Paperback: 180 Pages
Publisher: Terra Nova Books (October 1, 2014)
Farewell, Aleppo: My Father, My People, and Their Long Journey Home is available in ebook and in print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.
Review by Eric Trant:
First off, Aleppo is a professionally written, well thought-out, finely crafted memoir-slash-biography. That part is important, because there is a whole class of memoirs out there, especially on Amazon, that leads me to believe most writers cannot scribe themselves out of a bathroom stall. Aleppo, in this regard, is a pleasant and heartwarming reminder that yeppers, there are still some writers out there who are willing to stab into the memoir genre.
Second off, the book is well-organized and meticulously researched. I wondered at times how she managed to figure out dates and nail locations, but I suppose such things are possible when you are passionate about your story. It's her father's trek from the Middle East to the United States during and following WWII, and the details she dug out are an overwhelming testament to the love she shows toward him and her family heritage.
So, the book is technically sound. For memoirs, this alone ranks it in a rare class of books.
But not to bore you with the technical points, the book is also interesting and thought-provoking. There is the tragedy of her uncle's illness, her father's loneliness, and her grandfather's gut-wrenching decisions surrounding the eradication of Jewish families in the Middle East. You see her father's resilience and determination to succeed, at an age when most men would be better classified as boys. You taste the rigid structure of her Jewish background, and watch as the generations gradually peel away the old traditions and establish fresh ones, befitting of the new worlds they find themselves thrust into.
So, the book is not just technically sound, but is also a bustling crowd of stories within stories that keep the reader firmly ensconced in a world and a time that is best never forgotten.
Thank you to
WOW! Women on Writing
for organizing this fabulous book blog tour!
"A multi-faceted biography of her father and his long-ago journey from ancient Aleppo to skyscraper America, the story of the vanished Syrian-Jewish culture in Aleppo, now a battleground in Syria's civil war, [and] a look at how that culture still survives. A treasure of a book."
-Bernard Kalb, former correspondent for the New York Times, CBS News and NBC News, moderator of CNN's Reliable Sources and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
"Sutton merges the best of family biography with relevant and fascinating historical, social, and religious knowledge. Incorporating elements of history, religious struggles, pursuit of dreams, and the strength of kinship to create a stirring tribute to the foresight of her grandfather and the strength and perseverance of his offspring, Sutton craftily weaves interesting story lines into an encouraging and intriguing narrative."
Claudette Sutton 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. Farewell, Aleppo is a story of how people are shaped by their past. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to explore this rich culture that many people do not know very much about.
- Elise Cooper, Jewish Book Council
An engaging, evocative, deeply touching book that is part memoir, part history and part a personal journey....virtually a love-story of a daughter to a father.
– James McGrath Morris, author of Pulitzer, and Eyes on the Struggle
About the Author:
It’s no coincidence that family is the central focus of both Farewell, Aleppo and the work that has been the driving force of its author’s professional life.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the close-knit community of Syrian Jews all were part of Claudette Sutton’s childhood in suburban Maryland, along with her parents and siblings. Years later, as a young mother in Santa Fe, it seemed only natural to think of creating a similar kind of close support for families in her new hometown by means of her journalism training and experience.
Thus began what is now Tumbleweeds, an award-winning local publication that for over twenty years has been expanding its role in serving the city’s families. As the quarterly newspaper has grown, so have its scope and community contributions, mixing news, commentary, personal writing, advice, and activity guides—all reflecting Claudette’s vision of a community resource to help her neighbors face the challenges of parenting.
Claudette’s eloquent writing, the other great strength she combines with the paper’s wide-ranging utility, has been a door to the world for her since she was a teen-ager. As a reporter, she realized early, “You can learn about everything”—a much more appealing option after high school than the enforced specialization of college.
After three years writing for the Montgomery County Sentinel in Maryland, Claudette moved to New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree from the New School for Social Research. Living in proximity to another side of her extensive family, she built a deeper understanding of the Jewish exodus from Syria that has formed the backdrop for the story she tells so movingly in Farewell, Aleppo.
The narrative chronicles her father’s youth, his odyssey across oceans and continents, and the new life he made in America. But as Claudette talked with him and researched more deeply, she saw also the essential elements of the larger tale. What began as one man’s story grew into a portrait of the history that made his journey necessary, and of how a vibrant people have preserved their community and culture through the thousands of years from biblical times to today.
Find Claudette Online:
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+Claudettesutton
----------Upcoming Blog Tour Dates
Wednesday, November 8th @ Bring on Lemons with Eric Trant
Fellow Author Eric Trant reviews “Farewell, Aleppo” by Claudette Sutton. Don't miss Eric's insight and thoughts about this touching story.
Thursday, November 9th @ Memoir Writer’s Journey with Kathleen Pooler
Kathleen Pooler of Memoir Writer's Journey shares her deep thoughts after reading and reviewing Farewell, Aleppo by Claudette Sutton.
Friday, November 10th @ Linda Appleman Shapiro
Linda Appleman Shapiro reviews Claudette Suttons Farewell, Aleppo and shares her insight and thoughts with readers at her blog!
About Today's Reviewer:
Eric resides in Dallas, TX with his wife and children, where he writes and manages his own business. His writing combines literary characterization with supernatural elements, all the while engaging the reader's senses with constant movement and vivid settings. His books are designed to be one-sitters, meaning they can and should be read in one (or a few) sittings, owing to the fast-paced nature of the writing.
You can visit Eric at http://www.EricTrant.com, or see his blog at DiggingWithTheWorms.blogspot.com.