Adam Levinson releases new book The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah
The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East By Adam Valen Levinson
In THE ABU DHABI BAR MITZVAH: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East [W. W. Norton & Company; November 14, 2017; $25.95 hardcover], Valen Levinson, armed only with college Arabic and restless curiosity, explores the majority-Muslim lands that scare him most.
At first, Abu Dhabi is enough for him: camel races, pehlwani wrestling, and Silly-String celebrations in the streets for National Day provide more than enough novelty for any American newcomer. But in the wake of the Arab Spring, Valen Levinson begins to sense the history unfolding just over his horizon, and he can no longer sit still. He starts off with a road trip into unknown Oman.
After that he brings NYU students on spring break to Kuwait, and from there he’s hooked: he sets out to lunch in Taliban territory in Afghanistan, travels under the watchful eye of Aleppo’s secret police, risks shipwreck en route to Somalia, investigates Yazidi beliefs in a sacred cave, celebrates New Year’s Eve in Tahrir Square, and catches a glimpse of the compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden hid and was killed in 2011, just a few weeks before Valen Levinson’s visit. At every turn, he discovers a place that matches not at all with its reputation.
With every trip, Valen Levinson seeks real danger, and yet simultaneously hopes for safety. He desires the thrill of armed checkpoints, but he also wants to puncture the Islamophobic fantasy that the Middle East can be reduced to a giant “do not enter sign.”
What he finds is more complicated: The concept of these places as deadly and filled with hate is ignorant, but his quest to brush with danger and render terrorism toothless while doing so is still too simplistic. These aren’t places to be bombed or avoided, nor are they places to visit for a disaster-tourism adrenaline rush. They are real places filled with fellow humans making their way through complex lives.
By journey’s end, Valen Levinson has learned this lesson, and his unexpected bar mitzvah in Abu Dhabi, eight years late, shows that travel not only broadens our impression of the world, but our sense of self as well. Valen Levinson comes to an adult perspective on both the commonalities and the differences, the dangers and the possibilities inherent in the world around him, and on what he wants his place to be within them.
THE ABU DHABI BAR MITZVAH is a vivid story of personal growth, and a passionate argument against a world color-coded by Homeland Security and walled off by fear.
“Adam Valen Levinson is too young to have written a book this good: eloquent, analytical, funny, sad. The Middle East is a wondrous and strange and supernatural place, hard to articulate in all the different shades and shadows. But Levinson absolutely nailed it in a brilliant first book.”
—Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights
“A thrilling, riotous, sympathetic read that reminds us that little in the world is truly ‘foreign,’ bringing the peoples and cultures of the Middle East nearer to us, and pushing hatred and fear farther away.”
—Reza Aslan, author of God: A Human History
“Levinson manages to establish his own voice admirably, with an endearing mixture of ironic self-awareness, incisive sociological analysis, and simple humor….Using humor with the locals, as with his readers, he makes pithy observations at once earnest and ironic….The author’s linguistic riffs are a highlight and more insightful than the norm for travel writing.”
“Levinson skillfully relates aspects of his destinations’ histories alongside his journalist’s observations and personal thoughts and emotions in this unique and illuminating travelogue.”
“The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah is the rare work of art that mixes cultural immersion with personal reflection—and actually gets it right. This book would be entertaining as a novel, but the fact that it’s a true story should make it required reading for anyone who wants to learn about the world. I laughed, I cried, I preordered.”
—Chris Guillebeau, author of Side Hustle and The Happiness of Pursuit
“Overturning cliché to find a deeper humanity, the funny Valen Levinson is always fearless, and occasionally pantsless.”
—Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?
“The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah offers an entertaining and provocative travelogue of a young man’s adventures in the Muslim world. Along the way, the author finds gracious hosts rather than antagonists.”
—Elijah Anderson, author of Code of the Street and The Cosmopolitan Canopy
“A fabulously written primer on the darkest countries in the world—or not so dark, as Valen Levinson shows with his toolkit of sharp sociology and brilliant humor. This brave, humane, hilarious, and introspective account of his adventures is a must-read.”
—Peter Theroux, author of Sandstorms: Days and Nights in Arabia
“Adam Valen Levinson has the kind of intelligence that one can only acquire by reading widely and loving even wider. He’s an incredibly generous, compassionate, and thorough writer who gorgeously blends lyricism with reportage and philosophy with confession. That’s what makes this book a rare and important treasure.”
—Morgan Parker, author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé
It’s 2010. After graduating from college and spending a summer speaking only Arabic, Adam Valen Levinson lands in Abu Dhabi as a program coordinator for New York University Abu Dhabi. From this base, Valen Levinson embarks on what becomes a compulsive experiment: in the next 534 days, he’ll visit thirteen countries—including Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—pushing against “the hypothesis that had been worded for [him] on September 11: you can’t go there.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Adam Valen Levinson is a journalist and travel writer whose work focuses on human stories in conflict areas. His work has appeared in numerous outlets, including VICE, the Paris Review, Al Jazeera, and Haaretz. He is an affiliate of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., and a fellow at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University, studying humor as a key to cultural understanding.
Meet Adam Valen Levinson
November 13 * Brooklyn, NY * POWERHOUSE Arena
November 15 * Jacksonville, FL * Jewish Community Alliance
November 16 * Houston, TX * Evelyn Rubenstein JCC
November 18 * Miami, FL * Miami Book Fair
November 19 * Washington, D.C. * Politics and Prose
November 20 * Washington, D.C. * Middle East Institute
November 20 * New York, NY * Half King Reading Series
November 28 * New Haven, CT * Yale University Bookstore
December 3 * Staten Island, NY * Staten Island College Hillel
December 6 * Philadelphia, PA * The University of Pennsylvania
December 7 * Swarthmore, PA * Swarthmore College
February 7 * Scarsdale, NY * JCC of Mid-Westchester
TITLE: THE ABU DHABI BAR MITZVAH: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East
AUTHOR: Adam Valen Levinson; PUBLICATION DATE: November 14, 2017
PRICE: $25.95 hardcover; PAGES: 368; ISBN: 978-0-393-60836-6