Reading: Adam Valen Levinson

Adam Valen Levinson

The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East

Monday, November 20 at 7:00pm
Chronically questioning, funny, and bold, a young American explores the majority-Muslim lands that scare him most.

Armed only with college Arabic and restless curiosity, Adam Valen Levinson sets out to “learn about the world 9/11 made us fear.” From a base in globalized and sterilized Abu Dhabi, he sets out to lunch in Taliban territory in Afghanistan, travels under the watchful eye of Syria’s secret police, risks shipwreck en route to Somalia, investigates Yazidi beliefs in a sacred cave, cliff dives in Oman, celebrates New Year’s Eve in Tahrir Square, and, at every turn, discovers a place that matches not at all with its reputation.

Valen Levinson crosses borders with wisecracking humor, erudition, and humanity, seeking common ground with “bros” everywhere, and finding that people who pray differently often laugh the same. And as a young man bar mitzvahed eight years late, he slowly learns how childish it is to live by decisions and distinctions born of 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

“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

“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 Sandstorm: Days and Nights in Arabia

“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: The Human Quest to Make Sense of the Divine
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.
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