Book

The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah

Photo of the cover of the book titled "The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah."

Adam Valen Levinson, doctoral candidate in sociology

(W.W. Norton & Company)

In this book, a young American explores the majority-Muslim lands that scare him most.

Armed only with college Arabic and restless curiosity, Adam Valen Levinson set out to “learn about the world 9/11 made us fear.” From a base in Abu Dhabi, he has 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.