Farewell, Aleppo: My Father, My People, and Their Long Journey Home

Farewell, Aleppo: My Father, My People, and Their Long Journey Home

by Claudette E. Sutton

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Overview

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

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.

But the world intervened for the young men, now renamed Mike and Sal by their Uncle Joe. Sal became ill with tuberculosis soon after arriving and was sent back to Aleppo alone. And the war that soon would engulf every inhabited land loomed closer each day. Joe, Syrian-born but a naturalized American citizen, barely escaped on the last ship to sail for the U.S. before Pearl Harbor was bombed and the Japanese seized Shanghai.

Mike was alone, a teen-ager in an occupied city, across the world from his family, with only his mettle to rely on as he strived to survive personally and economically in the face of increasing deprivation. Farewell, Aleppo is the story—told by Mike's 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938288401
Publisher: Terra Nova Books
Publication date: 06/13/2014
Pages: 178
Product dimensions: 8.80(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

It’s no coincidence that family is the central focus of Farewell, Aleppo. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the close-knit community of Syrian Jews all were part of Claudette Sutton’s childhood in suburban Maryland. Claudette’s eloquent writing and journalism have been a door to the world for her since she was a teen-ager. Over her life, and through conversations with her father, 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.

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 1

Shortly after I moved to New York to go to college, I went home for Thanksgiving with my family. I sprawled on my parents’ bed that morning, doing the New York Times crossword puzzle as the Macy’s parade played on TV, grateful to see my overwhelming new city reduced to the dimensions of a television screen. Dad read the newspaper in the armchair beside the bed, while Mom was in her bathroom getting dressed. I almost gave up on that Thursday’s difficult puzzle when Dad, another crossword buff, asked if I needed help.

“Thanks,” I said, adding—rhetorically, of course—“but who would know the Turkish word for ‘morning’?”

“Sabah,” he said. I wrote the letters in the squares.

In some foggy corner of my brain, I remembered hearing that Dad had lived in Turkey as a child, although I could not have said at what age or in what circumstances. For whatever reason—perhaps modesty, perhaps the habit of silence that grows in people who spend many years away from those with whom they shared early experiences—my father had never talked much about growing up in Syria, or living in Turkey, or spending the war years in China before coming to America. What I knew about his life I had gleaned in disconnected bits, and I assumed I knew more or less how they fit together. Then one Thanksgiving morning, he tossed me the Turkish word for morning, and I wondered: How much more don’t I know about this man, my father?

On my next visit to my parents’ house in Maryland, I sat down with my father in his basement office, the former guest bedroom where my siblings and I had had sleepovers and parties as kids. I came with a mini-recorder and a list of questions. Dad, in his early 70s then, sat behind his big desk, surrounded by photos of his children and grandchildren. On the wall behind him hung pictures of his brothers and himself at family weddings and bar mitzvahs—smartly dressed men with high, broad foreheads and wide, confident smiles.

I remember Dad’s first, tentative words as I hit the start button: “This is the life story of me—Mike Sutton!”

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction: Adele's Token 1

The Word for Morning 9

Aleppo's Crowning Glory 15

Sephardic? Mizrahi? What Are We? 25

A Place Within Generations 29

The Head of the Fish 39

Leaving Aleppo 55

Bread, Boats, and Bananas 63

My Moon Rivers 69

New City, New Names 73

Uproar at the Harbor 86

Exporting the Family 105

Which Mike? China Mike! 115

Crossings 133

Epilogue: Into the Future 149

Bibliography 157

Photo Credits 159

About the Author 161

Discussion Guide for Book Groups 163

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