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The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home Hardcover – July 31, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (July 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420151X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201516
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,124,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Who is Rachel Jacobs? the 13-year-old asks her Muslim grandmother Rahat Siddiqi; that, Nana tells her, was my name before I was married. Thus does a grandmother's stunning reply and a granddaughter's promise to learn about her ancestors set Shepard's three voyages of discovery in motion: her grandmother's history; the story of the Bene Israel (one of the lost tribes of Israel that, having sailed from Israel two millennia ago, crashed on the Konkan coast in India; and her own self-discovery (her mother was Muslim, her father Christian, and her grand mother Jewish). Shepard balances all three journeys with dexterity as she spends her Fulbright year, with an old hand-drawn map and her grandmother's family tree, unraveling the mysteries of Nana's past while visiting and photographing the grand and minuscule synagogues in Bombay and on the Konkan Coast. A filmmaker, Shepard writes with a lively sense of pacing (her year proceeds chronologically, interspersed with well-placed flashbacks) and a keen sense of character (getting to know her friend, escort and fellow filmmaker Rekhev as gradually as she does, or capturing the Muslim baker who makes the only authentic challah in Bombay in a few strokes). Shepard's story is entertaining and instructive, inquiring and visionary. (Aug.)
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From The New Yorker

September 8, 2008
In this elegantly crafted memoir, the author sets out to fulfill her grandmother's dying wish that she learn about her heritage. Her grandmother grew up among the Bene Israel, a small Jewish community in India; when she married a Muslim, she left Judaism and, eventually, India, and adopted the name Rahat Siddiqi. Shepard herself is the product of a mixed marriage: her mother is Pakistani and Muslim, her father American and Christian. After receiving a Fulbright, she left her life in the U.S. to document the remaining Indian Jews, whose numbers have steadily dwindled as many emigrate to Israel. Shepard's eagerness to maintain narrative tension leads to occasional artificiality, but her writing is vivid and her meditations on heritage and grief are moving.
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More About the Author

Sadia Shepard is the author of THE GIRL FROM FOREIGN. She received a BA from Wesleyan University, an MA from the Graduate Program in Documentary Film and Video at Stanford University and was a Fulbright Scholar to India in 2001. Shepard's writing has appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Her film IN SEARCH OF THE BENE ISRAEL screened at the 2009 New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center and is currently touring Jewish film festivals around the world. She also produced THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE, a documentary portrait of the making of Vogue, which won the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and will screen in theaters fall of 2009. She teaches creative non-fiction writing at Columbia University and lectures widely about growing up in a multi-faith home.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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This book is very engaging and well written.
jgdom
Full of fascinating exposure to Jewish Indians with unique roots and customs who lived harmoniously among Muslims and Hindus for generations.
R. Lee
I read this in hardback sometime ago, and this is very special book tracing one's background, and really fascinating.
Kate Runyan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By George on August 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
At the behest of her dying grandmother, Shepard investigated her family's past in India and Pakistan. Her journey is a combination of revelation and research, with some intellectual discussions about the meaning of religion, family, and nationality, thrown in. Chapters alternate between Shepard's research and travels and accounts of her grandmother (her mother's mother,) who grew up a Jew in India and became the third wife of a Muslim businessman who moved to Pakistan after partition. Shepard's father is an American Christian. Her clear writing is full of insights, with many questions left for the reader to ponder.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By R. Lee on August 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Mesmerizing memoir, quirky nuanced story telling.

Engagingly discombobulated at times, yet microscopically real, as Shepard explores the nooks and crannies of India and Pakistan using her curiosity, camera and notebook to illuminate micro-cultural threads that weave the tapestry of her heritage. Full of fascinating exposure to Jewish Indians with unique roots and customs who lived harmoniously among Muslims and Hindus for generations. A stirring exploration into the diverse cultural palette of South Asia.

A book to read slowly to best savor the revelations that unfold with Shepard's entertaining and insightful journey full of detailed ambiance and discerning commentary.

Readers beware, as this book may have a lasting impact on your own desire to understand a little bit more about the influences of your own cultural legacy.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By amazon lover on September 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I expected this book to be informative and interesting, but I had no idea of how emotionally involved I would feel by the end. Shepard's first-person narrative describes the two years she spent in India, researching her grandmother's roots in a small community of Indian Jews. Her tale depicts the blending and intermingling, successful and otherwise, of nationalities, cultures, and religions, both in India, Pakistan, and in the U.S. Her quest to understand her grandmother better inevitably draws the reader in, and by the end of the book, I couldn't help but feel an intimate connection to both Sadia and her grandmother. Shepard tells her story beautifully, and I was very impressed that this is her first book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys personal narratives, foreign travel, the intersection of cultures, and questions of religious faith.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Varick on July 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories of personal growth, travel, the intersection of cultures, and questions of faith. In The Girl From Foreign, Shepard journeys to India to search for her roots in a small community called the Bene Israel, who believe they were shipwrecked there in 175 B.C.E. While in Mumbai, Shepard, the daughter of a Muslim mother, Christian father and Jewish grandmother, wrestles with questions of identity, reconnects with her family's past, and falls in love. She tells her story beautifully, and does a wonderful job of raising important, timely issues. Informative, engaging, thought provoking, and powerful. I loved it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gary Selikow on November 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
A very well written narrative of the auhtor's search for her roots, intimate, at parts poignant and highly readable, captures the sence of her experiences. A novel of emotions, self-discovery and about faith and culture.
The auhtor describes her happy childhood in Colorado, in a mixed family of an American Protestant father and a Muslim Pakistani mother.
Her maternal grandmother reveals to her that she is not of Muslim birth, but is a child of the Bene Israel, a community of Jews in Western India descended from a small group of migrants who were shipwrecked on the Indian coast two thousand years ago, and never gave up their Jewish faith and cultural, emotional and spiritual and historic connection tot he Land of Israel.
The author skilfully weaves a description of their faith and culture with her own journey of finding herself and gathering her emotions and memories together, in the opening years of the 21st century.
While it is richly written and well layered, I think the author could go further in explaining more about the Bene Israel, and since-as she reveals herself in the book-the majority of this community have migrated back to their roots in Israel, a trip to Israel to further study this community would seem to me essential, though the experiences recorded only in India, Pakistan and the USA.
Ultimately a great weekend read that passes with flying colours.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kathryn Smerling on September 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Is there a significant difference between family and spirituality, and family and religion? In Girl From Foreign Sadia Sheppard, a young woman with three religions and one home, explores the distinction in a quest to discover her grandmother's roots. In this quest Sadia begins a complex journey into Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Can one have three spiritual homes? Or is it necessary to choose one? What unites all three religions and what distinguishes them? Can one live with the values implicit in all three religions?

This book highlights the ambiguity of life. How we as modern people can get beyond the view of the world in black & white. The world in actuality is a multiplicity of shades of color. Why do we have to define differences rather than developing a sense of expansiveness?

For Miss Shepard, as it is for most of us, it was important to discover her grandmother's physical and spiritual roots. That knowledge of our ancestors gives all of us a sense of physical continuity and a concreteness which then becomes a jumping off point to discover our own self.

I literally took Sadia Shepard's journey with me as I read her story. It is a moving tribute to her grandmother and presents possibilities for individual peace within a warring world.
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