Reviews for Crossing Mandelbaum Gate : Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978

Booklist Reviews 2010 March #2
The interminable conflict between Arabs and Israelis, sadly, lends itself to visual images that reduce both sides to caricatures. One of the treasures of this superb memoir is Bird's determination to put a human face on some of the participants in this conflict. His father, an American foreign-service officer, brought his family to Jerusalem in 1956, and young Kai frequently passed through Mandelbaum Gate, the dividing line between the Israeli- and Jordanian-controlled sectors. Over the next 22 years, he lived and traveled in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. He seamlessly melds personal history and the story of his family within the turmoil surrounding them, which included three major wars, the spate of airline hijackings, and the prominence of Black September. Although broadly sympathetic to Palestinian aspirations and suffering, Bird, whose wife is the child of Holocaust survivors, is also acutely sensitive to the fears and dilemmas faced by Israelis. This is a deeply felt and moving chronicle of one person's up-close view of the human cost of this seemingly endless struggle.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 January #2
A wise, intimate memoir about growing up the son of an American foreign-service officer in the Middle East, from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bird (co-author, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2005, etc.).Titled after the gate between East and West Jerusalem, the story moves from the arrival of the author's family in Jerusalem in 1956, where his father, Eugene Bird, was appointed, through his stints in Dhahran and Cairo, until the Americans were expelled by Gamal Nasser after the Naksa ("setback") of Israel's 1967 territorial conquest. The family spent some time in Beirut, as well, and later in Bombay, and the author studied at the American University of Beirut in the early '70s and became an anti-Vietnam War activist. Born in 1951, Bird came of age among Arabs and Jews, and he offers unique insights into the deepening animosities that he witnessed firsthand. Although the family was thrilled to be inhabiting the Holy Land, with friends from all sectors (the father studied Arabic), they soon soured on the idea of Zionism, which they saw as the forcible seizure of much of Palestine "by threat, murder, pillage." In Dhahran, they lived among a tightly contained colony of 2,500 Americans employed by Aramco, a company that was patronizing toward the Saudi workers and felt the "winds of Arab nationalism" in the form of strikes. While in Cairo, Bird observed how a truly cosmopolitan city gradually grew autocratic under Nasser and anti-Semitic in the wake of Israeli aggression. The author's richly layered cultural narrative finds incisive lessons in the careers of Nasser and the Saudi royal family, the PLO hijackings of September 1970--Bird's girlfriend was aboard one plane--and the journey of Holocaust survivors in establishing "the Hebrew Republic" of Israel.If one person's story can shed light on a larger history, Bird's memoir carries many excellent lessons.Agent: Gail Ross/Gail Ross Literary Agency Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 December #1
Son of an American Foreign Services officer in Jerusalem, Bird recalls living through three Middle East wars-and being driven to school through the Mandelbaum Gate, the dividing line between Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem and Arab-controlled East Jerusalem. My nonfiction favorite. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 January #2

Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of American Prometheus, offers a compelling hybrid of memoir and history, weaving together recollections of his childhood in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt; the stories of his wife's Holocaust survivor parents; and rigorous scholarship on the region. The book's title--Mandelbaum Gate once separated Israeli-controlled Western Jerusalem from the Jordanian-controlled East--indicates a view on the conflict, and it's certainly that, but it's also much more: readers are given ringside seats to Cairo under Nasser, the author's American family's friends (including Osama bin Laden's elder brother), and Bird's years in India and the U.S. during the heyday of the antiwar movement of the '60s. Notable events and figures (airplane hijacker Leila Khaled, for example, or the Palestinian-Jordanian battles known as Black September) are given detailed treatment and their continuing resonance is made clear. Bird's brushes with history--his first girlfriend was held hostage on an airplane hijacked to win Khaled's release, for instance--brings home the deeply messy humanity of the stories he binds together in this kaleidoscopic and captivating book. (Apr.)

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