Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Review of Russell, Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

THE MIDDLE EAST: Paperback non-fiction choice October: Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms by Gerard Russell (William Dalrymple, The Guardian).
Russell takes us on a fascinating and timely journey through the beliefs and predicaments of seven fascinating but little-known religions; as well as the Mandeans and Yezidis, we meet the last of the Iranian Zoroastrians, the Druze and Samaritans lodged uneasily between Israel and the Arabs, the increasingly persecuted Coptic Christians of Egypt and the Kafir Kalash of the Hindu Kush. It’s a long time since I read a travel book that taught or illuminated so much, but its importance is greater than that. Tragically, this book puts on record for the last possible time a once-plural world that is on the verge of disappearing for ever.
This summary article on the book is from the Guardian's "Shelf Improvement newsletter" and it links to a full review by Dalrymple at the end of 2014, which I missed at the time. The book is more timely than ever. PaleoJudaica has been keeping some track of most of these groups in recent years. Recent posts on each: the Mandaeans (Mandeans), the Yazidis (Yezidis), the Druze, the Samaritans, and Coptic and the Copts. The past posts on the Zoroastrians have been on the ancient religion (most recently here), but I recently ran across this article on a Zoroastrian community in New York: Zoroastrians Build New Religious, Cultural Center In Pomona, N.Y. (Ela Dutt, News India Times).
Zoroastrians, or Zarathushtis as they are traditionally called, are fighting stereotypes about the community’s decline, opening a new religious and cultural center in Pomona, N.Y. this March, and counting a steady rise in their numbers. The new Dar-e-Mehr building is inspired by ancient Persian and Zoroastrian architecture of the fire temples of India.

The small community of 500 families of both South Asian and Iranian extraction, raised $5 million over a period of four years from local, national and international sources, to build a home for future generations, a press release from a group of organizations said. The current Zarathushti population in the Greater New York area is estimated at about one thousand and growing as the community becomes more culturally flexible and intermarriage is accepted.