Cross­ing Man­del­baum Gate: Com­ing of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956 – 1978

  • From the Publisher
August 15, 2013
Pulitzer Prize win­ner Kai Bird’s fas­ci­nat­ing mem­oir of his ear­ly years spent in Israel, Jor­dan, Egypt, Sau­di Ara­bia, and Lebanon pro­vides an orig­i­nal and illu­mi­nat­ing per­spec­tive into the Arab-Israeli con­flict.

Weeks before the Suez War of 1956, four-year-old Kai Bird, son of a gar­ru­lous, charm­ing Amer­i­can For­eign Ser­vice offi­cer, moved to Jerusalem with his fam­i­ly. They set­tled in a small house, where young Kai could hear church bells and the Mus­lim call to prayer and watch as don­keys and camels com­pet­ed with cars for space on the nar­row streets. Each day on his way to school, Kai was dri­ven through Man­del­baum Gate, where armed sol­diers guard­ed the line sep­a­rat­ing Israeli-con­trolled West Jerusalem from Arab-con­trolled East. He had a front-seat view to both sides of a divid­ed city — and the roots of the widen­ing con­flict between Arabs and Israelis.

Bird would spend much of his life cross­ing such lines — as a child in Jerusalem, Sau­di Ara­bia, and Egypt, and lat­er, as a young man in Lebanon. Cross­ing Man­del­baum Gate is his com­pelling per­son­al his­to­ry of grow­ing up an Amer­i­can in the midst of three major wars and three tur­bu­lent decades in the Mid­dle East. The Zelig-like Bird brings read­ers into such con­flicts as the Suez War, the Six Day War of 1967, and the Black Sep­tem­ber hijack­ings in 1970 that trig­gered the Jor­dan­ian civ­il war. Bird vivid­ly por­trays such emblem­at­ic fig­ures as the eru­dite George Anto­nius, author of The Arab Awak­en­ing; Jordan’s King Hus­sein; the Pales­tin­ian hijack­er Leila Khaled; Salem bin Laden, Osama’s old­er broth­er and a fam­i­ly friend; Sau­di King Faisal; Pres­i­dent Nass­er of Egypt; and Hil­lel Kook, the for­got­ten res­cuer of more than 100,000 Jews dur­ing World War II.

Bird, his par­ents sym­pa­thet­ic to Pales­tin­ian self-deter­mi­na­tion and his wife the daugh­ter of two Holo­caust sur­vivors, has writ­ten a mas­ter­ful and high­ly acces­si­ble book — at once a vivid chron­i­cle of a life spent between cul­tures as well as a con­sum­mate his­to­ry of a region in tur­moil. It is an indis­pens­able addi­tion to the lit­er­a­ture on the mod­ern Mid­dle East.

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