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 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.
"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
Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of Farewell, Aleppo please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes Sunday, October 29th at 11:59 PM EST. We will announce the winner the next day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!
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
-----Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
WOW: Thank you so much for choosing WOW! This is such a beautiful story and I'm glad you are sharing it with the WOW team and our readers!
What prompted you to not only write your story but also to share it? Was there a defining moment when you said "this story deserves to be told"?
Claudette: My book started with a simple request from my father. Some of his friends had been asking him about his life – growing up in Syria, living in Shanghai under Japanese occupation during World War II, coming to the United States alone after the war – and he wanted help getting something on paper to share with them. I thought it would be a quick little project.
My father has always been a soft-spoken, modest man, for whom talking about himself or boasting doesn’t come naturally. I sat down with him with a tape recorder and started asking questions, and from the get-go I realized that that his story was more fascinating than he had any idea and that interest would reach far beyond friends and family. It was also clear that this wasn’t just a personal story but a chapter of history I’d learned nothing about in school, even in religious school. Aleppo’s Jewish community had existed since ancient times, but it had almost completely vacated following the creation of Israel in 1948, as did other Jewish communities throughout the Muslim world, but we don’t hear their stories here in America, where the majority of Jews come from Europe and Russia. So I realized that I was writing not just my dad’s story but a variation of the experience of hundreds of thousands of Jewish families who fled Middle Eastern and North African countries in the twentieth century. With so few Jews living in those countries anymore, their stories are gone unless we collect and share them.
The current ongoing war in Syria and the destruction of Aleppo adds another layer to my dad’s story. I want to give people an awareness that less than a century ago, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together in Syria, a respectful coexistence that we’d find impossible to imagine if we only knew Syria from recent events.
WOW: Thank you for collecting this story and sharing it. I'm sure your voice will be an inspiration to others.
What has been most challenging in regards to writing your father's story, sharing it, publishing, etc. What advice to you give others who may want to share their story?
Claudette: There are unique rewards and challenges to writing about a family member. When I write about someone I’ve just met, the challenge is to learn enough about them to paint a realistic and evocative picture. Writing about my dad, someone I’ve known literally every day of my life, the challenge was to capture not just the facts but the anecdotes and descriptions that would give people who never met us a sense of who he is and my relationship. This was much harder than I thought! Much of my writing and rewriting time went into finding ways to see father and myself from the outside, to be able to bring us to life on paper.
WOW: That's such a great way to explain it - I can imagine the emotional connection is very different when you are so intimately acquainted.
What is your favorite book and why? or Who is your favorite author may be a better question?
Claudette: One of the books I’m reading right now is Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It’s actually hard for me to read more than a few pages of at a time, because I am so blown away how he writes. To me, Steinbeck is the absolute master of conveying a sense of place. If I can pick up a trick or two, I’ll be a happy writer.
WOW: Reading is such a huge part of writing - I'm glad you bring this up as a tool. Another tool for some authors is belonging to a writers or critique group. Are you part of a writer's group and why or why not?
Claudette: Yes, I’m in a writer’s group. I was invited to join one a year ago by someone who liked what I read at an open mic event. It’s a small group, very insightful, very respectful. I appreciate the nudge to gussy up something I’ve written every other week to bring to the group, and I always leave with feedback I couldn’t have given myself. Good editors are like good hairstylists: they can see the places in the back that you can’t see with your own eyes.
WOW: Every other week - that's awesome! What a great group. That's got to help keep you moving forward, and speaking of which, what's next for you?
Claudette: I’m writing about my maternal grandparents, who between them had lived in Cairo, Aleppo, New York City, Haiti, Manchester and Mexico City, by the time they met in Paris in the 1920s, when my grandmother was a 15-year-old girl in boarding school and my grandfather was a 30-year-old Syrian American businessman (and a distant cousin). So I’m writing about family again – although I think this book will have a very different feel from “Farewell, Aleppo,” since it’s such a different story. But we’ll see how it takes shape.
WOW: What advice would you give if you had an opportunity to speak to a younger version of yourself? (when it comes to writing or life?)
Claudette: In writing as in all things, my advice to my younger self would be: “Do more of what you love, and do it sooner. Almost nothing needed the worry you thought it did.” Maybe that’s the kind of thing we can only say in hindsight, when we know what worked out well and what didn’t, what deserved worry and what didn’t. I don’t know. But thinking about it makes me imagine an older me putting her arm around me as I am now and saying, “Sweetie, do more of what you love. Do it sooner. Almost nothing is worth the worry you think it does.” I’ll try to listen!
WOW: Very solid advice for sure!
If there were a song to go along with your book, what song would it be and why?
Claudette: “Moon River.” It’s such a wonderful old chestnut from the 1960s, evocative of an even earlier time. My parents and I went to China in 2000, when I was working on the book, and we had a chance to revisit some of the places where my father lived during and after World War II. We heard “Moon River” playing in three separate hotel piano bars during that trip, as if it were the unofficial theme song of international travelers in Asia at the time. “Off to see the world…” “After the same rainbow’s end…” Maybe people felt it captured a sense of being an outsider and the urge to find where we belong, themes that run through my dad’s journey and my book.
WOW: Thanks again and we are all looking forward to your guest posts and comments during the tour - this is a lovely opportunity to learn more about you, your family, and the history of Aleppo.
----------Blog Tour Dates
Monday October 23rd (today) @ WOW! Women on Writing
Interview & Giveaway
Tuesday, October 24th @ Bring on Lemons with Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
Crystal J. Casavant-Otto from WOW! shares her thoughts after reading Farewell, Aleppo by Claudette Sutton. Don't miss this engaging and enlightening book blog stop!
Wednesday, October 25th @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
Madeline Sharples reads and reviews Farewell, Aleppo by Claudette Sutton and shares her insight and thoughts with readers at Choices.
Thursday, October 26th @ Jerry Waxler
Readers of Jerry Waxler's memoir blog will enjoy reading Jerry's deep thoughts as he reviews Farewell, Aleppo by Claudette Sutton.
Friday, October 27th @ Beverley A. Baird
Beverley Baird reviews and shares her thoughts after reading the moving story Farewell, Aleppo by Claudette Sutton. Don't miss this book blog stop.
Friday, October 27th @ Lisa Haselton
Lisa Haselton interviews Claudette Sutton about her acclaimed book, Farewell, Aleppo.
Monday, October 30th @ CMash Loves to Read
Today's guest blogger at CMash Loves to Read is none other than Claudette E. Sutton. Hear from her and learn more about her book Farewell, Aleppo.
Friday, November 3rd @ Janese Dixon
Don't miss today's author spotlight at Janese Dixon's blog - the author is none other than Claudette E. Sutton. Readers can learn more about Sutton and her beautifully written tale: Farewell, Aleppo: My Father, My People, and Their Long Journey Home.
Tuesday, November 7th @ Coming Down the Mountain
Karen Jones Gowen reviews "Farewell Aleppo" by Claudette Sutton. Don't miss Gowen's insight after reading this touching true story.
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!
Enter to win a copy of Farewell, Aleppo by Claudette E. Sutton! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway closes on Sunday, October 29th! We will announce the winner the next day in this Rafflecopter widget and follow up via email. Good luck!
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