Words

Fear and Love

Not your average memoir

Get It

More:

HOW: The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah is available from your local library in print, eBook, downloadable audio, and Playaway audio formats. To request, visit http://www.wcls.org if you live in Whatcom County, or http://www.bellinghampubliclibrary.org if you live within Bellingham city limits.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

With the recent news that Saudi Arabia will soon be offering tourist visas, the publication of Adam Valen Levinson’s new memoir/travelogue, The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East, is perfectly timed. More than an account of his travels, the book describes both realities and the flavor of life in countries ranging from Syria to Pakistan to Somalia.

Levinson grew up in the shadow of 9/11, and as a young adult recognized how many “fear” messages about the Middle East he had internalized. Armed with a knowledge of Arabic learned in college, curiosity and a mercurial restlessness, his travels to 23 Middle Eastern countries are definitely not the stuff of standard tourist fare, nor the sort of information you would find in even a Lonely Planet guidebook.

The countries he visits are often chosen because someone has told him it would be far too dangerous, or even impossible, to cross a particular border or travel by a particular route. In fact, he stops informing his parents of his travel plans and lets them believe that he is in Abu Dhabi, where he actually does have an apartment and an undemanding job as program coordinator for New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus.

Many of Levinson’s experiences completely debunk his expectations about these countries. And occasionally, he does find himself in situations that are truly dangerous. He crosses through checkpoints too numerous to count, often with a required military traveling companion, sometimes relying on his dark skin, dark hair and shalwar kameez (traditional outfit) to pass without scrutiny.

Along the way, he meets a zany cast of characters and their tentative friendships across cultures are both humorous and thought-provoking. Because Levinson finds shared humanity in these strange situations, his internalized fears dissipate and these Middle Eastern countries ultimately end up feeling less foreign.

The inclusion of the word “love” in the subtitle refers to Adam’s girlfriend, Masha; met in a whirlwind romance just before leaving for Abu Dhabi, their conflicted relationship is communicated through occasional shared email messages at the beginning of chapters. Masha respects that Adam wants to live a life that is not average, safe and predictable, and wishes she were less fearful herself; and also that he would choose her over Iraq or the Sudan.

Levinson is currently studying humor as a key to cultural understanding at Yale University, and this information gives insight into how this book reads. There is plenty of meaty political history here and the opportunity to learn concrete facts about these areas of the world. His unorthodox approach to travel and ability to communicate in the native language shares a boots-on-the-ground view of everyday life conditions and attitudes of local people. And, in the memoir part of the narrative, Levinson employs self-effacing humor to dissect his own biases and privilege.

Lisa Gresham is the Collection Support Manager for Whatcom County Library System. She loves to travel, but might not be quite this adventurous.

Silver Reef Money
More Words...
A Fire Story
Burning down the house

A recent report by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center and the National Interagency Fire Center calling for this year’s wildfire potential to be “above normal” in the Pacific Northwest may have Whatcom County residents already thinking about the threat of local fires and another summer…

more »
Elegant Aviary
Birds of the West

“On the whole, birds appear to be the most aesthetic of all animals, excepting of course man, and they have nearly the same taste for the beautiful we have,” observed Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man.

This quote, included in the opening of Molly Hashimoto’s Birds of the West: An…

more »
Unforgettable
Beauty is a wound

There are times when you happen upon a book and are completely blown away by its scope, craft and story. Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound is just such a novel—sweeping, epic, with a vast but unforgettable cast of characters.

It’s reminiscent of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel…

more »
Events
Today
Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest

12:00pm

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

The Hobbit

7:00pm|Judson Auditorium

Matilda the Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Birch Bay Kite Festival

10:00am|Birch Bay Beach Park

Birch Bay Book Sale

10:00am|Birch Bay Beach Park

Lummi Island Artists' Studio Tour

10:00am|Lummi Island

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Solace on the slopes

7:00am

Ski to Sea Race

7:30am|Mt. Baker to Marine Park

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Ski to Sea Seconds Sale

10:00am|Good Earth Pottery

Historic Fairhaven Festival

10:00am|Historic Fairhaven

Paper Voodoo Workshop

10:00am|Blaine Harbor Center

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Public Sails

12:00pm|Squalicum Harbor

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theater

Oceans Flamenco with Savannah Fuentes

7:30pm|Tha Outlet

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest

12:00pm

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Public Sails

12:00pm|Squalicum Harbor

Oceans Flamenco with Savannah Fuentes

7:30pm|Tha Outlet

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

4:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Swing Dancing Classes

5:00pm|Presence Studio

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books
Tuesday
Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest

12:00pm

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Mapping Mars

4:00pm|Wilson Library

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Books & Brews

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Punch Up Comedy Showcase and Open Mic

7:30pm|The Shakedown

Spring Choral Concert

8:00pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

see our complete calendar »

Trove Web Village Books Kids Guide 2019 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1