30 review for Out of Egypt: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    William2

    Brilliant! In its early pages it’s interesting to think of this book as a flipside of Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy. Both stories are multigenerational family sagas set in Egypt during the same period, early to mid-20th century. But while Mahfouz’s three-volume book focuses on an Arab family and its falsely pious roué paterfamilias in Cairo, Out of Egypt is about an eccentric Jewish family living in nearby Alexandria. There’s nothing here of Mahfouz’s abhorrence of British colonialism, and Brilliant! In its early pages it’s interesting to think of this book as a flipside of Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy. Both stories are multigenerational family sagas set in Egypt during the same period, early to mid-20th century. But while Mahfouz’s three-volume book focuses on an Arab family and its falsely pious roué paterfamilias in Cairo, Out of Egypt is about an eccentric Jewish family living in nearby Alexandria. There’s nothing here of Mahfouz’s abhorrence of British colonialism, and the political protests of the Arab population to shake off that yoke. Rather, it’s clear that author Aciman’s Jewish ancestors depended on that yoke if they were to continue to live there. In the years after the Suez Crisis, 1956, they were forced to flee in the face of expropriation, arrest and torture. First we meet the grandmothers who are not yet grandmothers, before the author’s mother and father met. The women were neighbors on the Rue Memphis and shared six languages between them, including the obscure Ladino, which Wikipedia calls: “. . . a Romance language derived from Old Spanish. Originally spoken in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire . . . Today it is spoken mainly by Sephardic minorities in more than 30 countries, with most of the speakers residing in Israel.” The tenor of Proust is here in the family arguments, the work of the servants, who are described beautifully and berated intolerably. The writing is vivid, so intensely so that it approaches the synesthetic. One can smell the rosemary and rhododendrons in the gardens; the Parmesan cheese in the houses, the reek of hilba on the Arab servants. There’s Aunt Flora playing Schubert’s B-flat major sonata while the Nazis threaten the city before El Alamein. Flora’s sleeps with the author’s future father who then jilts her for the neighbor’s deaf daughter. This alignment produces the author. Flora befriends Mimi, the new wife. In October 1956, when the Suez Crisis erupted, Nasser brought in a set of sweeping regulations abolishing civil liberties and allowing the state to stage mass arrests without charge and strip away Egyptian citizenship from any group it desired; these measures were mostly directed against the Jews of Egypt. As part of its new policy, 1,000 Jews were arrested and 500 Jewish businesses were seized by the government. A statement branding the Jews as "Zionists and enemies of the state" was read out in the mosques of Cairo and Alexandria. Jewish bank accounts were confiscated and many Jews lost their jobs. Lawyers, engineers, doctors and teachers were not allowed to work in their professions. Thousands of Jews were ordered to leave the country. They were allowed to take only one suitcase and a small sum of cash, and forced to sign declarations "donating" their property to the Egyptian government.—Wikipedia There’s a wonderful line delivered by the odious Uncle Isaac, when he learns that because Israel was part of the Triumvirate that attacked Port Said, that the Jews in Egypt were being targeted. “Why?” he says. “We’re not Israelis.” There’s a wonderful incapacity to understand racism here, that I think anyone with a brain shares. I remember that incomprehensibilty when reading extensively on the Holocaust years ago. That comment made me like Isaac, a splenetic and disagreeable man, as I had not before. After most of Aciman’s family members leave Egypt, his father insists on staying behind because of his robust textile business. The young author is sent to Victory College—formerly known as Victoria College—once a proud though far flung stronghold of the British educational system, now a hotbed of antisemitic rage and a serious tool for inculcating nationalist views in Egyptian youth. Aciman is the only Jew in the school. Part of his studies include the memorization of Arabic doggerel that depicts Egypt as all powerful, and Jews as hook-nosed savages being crushed under the wheel of the new national pride. Aciman’s father, who is largely consigned to the fringes of this ample memoir, takes no notice of this wretched antisemitic content, but insists his son learn it like the other boys lest his failure be looked on as an act of sedition by the government, and thus justification for expulsion. This penultimate chapter, called “The Lotus-Eaters,” is a gobsmacker. Then comes the coda with its intimidating, anonymous phonecalls. The voice knows the family’s complete history. Chillingly, the voice speaks of their daily activities. Mostly it asks: “Where is your father?” Not until the textile business is taken by Nassar’s government, though, do they decamp. It’s hard to imagine living under such a strain. I put Out of Egypt on the same shelf with William Dalrymple’s marvelous City of Djinns and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, though neither Matthiessen nor Dalrymple ever had to worry about their personal safety when researching those books. They are travel books whereas Egypt is a prelude-to-exile book. Maybe it’s even closer to Victor Klemperer’s two-volume I Will Bear Witness, which recounts the author’s life during the Nazi period with his “Aryan” wife, though Klemperer never went into exile. Vladimir Nabokov entered exile, though he was a child at the time, and so did Victor Serge, both escaping revolutionary Russia. Napoleon did, too, perhaps most famously. About the latter I highly recommend Julia Blackburn’s fine The Emperor’s Last Island.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    A really stunning memoir, which despite being published in the US in 1994, is only appearing in print at this side of the Atlantic in 2019 (due to Faber's recent acquisition of Aciman's back catalogue). Aciman's accounts of his family are almost unbelievable. Whereas many families may have one character who stands out amongst the rest, Aciman's family seems to have been entirely comprised of characters with strange origins and wild lives. All of these lives are projected against the fraught sett A really stunning memoir, which despite being published in the US in 1994, is only appearing in print at this side of the Atlantic in 2019 (due to Faber's recent acquisition of Aciman's back catalogue). Aciman's accounts of his family are almost unbelievable. Whereas many families may have one character who stands out amongst the rest, Aciman's family seems to have been entirely comprised of characters with strange origins and wild lives. All of these lives are projected against the fraught setting of Alexandria before, during, and after WWII. Oftentimes you forget you're reading a memoir, due to Aciman's novelistic approach, which transforms this book from a random memoir of a would-be novelist to an almost essential work of non-fiction. I hope that this reissuing (which is actually a first printing) gives this book a second wind. It deserves to be loved again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jan Rice

    Unlike features of a landscape like trees and mountains, people have feet. They move to places where the opportunities are best, and they soon invite their friends and relatives to join them. This demographic mixing turns the landscape into a fractal, with minorities inside minorities inside minorities. --Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature, p. 241 First read in 2008; given a thumbnail review in May, 2013: Although I read this book in the past, I know the exact date for once, because in Unlike features of a landscape like trees and mountains, people have feet. They move to places where the opportunities are best, and they soon invite their friends and relatives to join them. This demographic mixing turns the landscape into a fractal, with minorities inside minorities inside minorities. --Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature, p. 241 First read in 2008; given a thumbnail review in May, 2013: Although I read this book in the past, I know the exact date for once, because in 2008 the local library conducted a five-book series on Jewish literature that I participated in. The book is a memoir of the author's family, whose life in Egypt came to an end in the 1960s (I think). It differed from my then-typical reading and therefore was a little hard to get into, but was evocative and memorable. It must be of the same genre as The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss, one of my current books. It's also said to be Proust-like, so related (it can seem) to what half of Goodreads is reading. But the reason I'm thinking of Out of Egypt today is that I just read a review of the author's new novel, Harvard Square. Although I had just been thinking that some book reviews are much worse than Goodreads reviews because they make me not want to read the reviewed book, this one resulted in my adding the book post-haste. Second reading, completed October 2, 2014 I'm supposed to lead a discussion of the author's recent novel Harvard Square, which made me think it would be a good idea to reread Out of Egypt. I remembered so little of it and found it tough going, but some of what I did remember has proved important to me. The memoir seems to me to be on the order of recording a dream--quick, before it melts away and is gone forever. It is about the motley crew of relatives with whom he grew up in Alexandria, their quirks and personalities, their lives and surroundings. His first ancestor showed up there in 1905, and by the time that fact surfaced near the end of the book I'm damned if I can remember which relative that might have been. It's hard to keep them straight. He often refers to them by their nicknames, or maybe sometimes by their main characteristic in his sight--"the Saint," and "the Princess," for example, for his two grandmothers, whom later he would devilishly call "my grandmother," leaving me trying to discern which one is intended. So obviously I was bestirring myself to read analytically and pin things down, while sometimes it's better to just let the impressions wash over one--yet at the same time I did want to pin things down a little more on this second reading! And to add to the fun he can skip around in time. Now we're in his life as a boy growing up in Alexandria, and now we're in Paris visiting those relatives in their diminished and separate old age, afterward. But mostly we're in Alexandria. His parents were born there. His grandparents--three of them, anyway, were Sephardic Jews from what was still Constantinople when they left. I cannot remember specifically what sort of upset at the first of the twentieth century led to their leaving. Those grandparents spoke five or six languages, with Ladino the comfortable old clothes they slipped into when the corset of French got too tight. They could look toward the west and look down on the east, styling themselves "Italian." One of the grandfathers was from Aleppo, and he definitely held a lower status among that generation, being an "Arab Jew." And one of the languages they learned was not Arabic. Theirs was a Eurocentric mentality. They lived among the Italian, Greek, French and English business class. They weren't exactly wealthy. The grandfather from Turkey had a billiard hall--I think! The Aleppo grandfather, he had a bicycle shop. But maybe it ended up being a factory. The Arab native population that we meet through their eyes are often the servant class. The grandmothers were out and about, making purchases, haggling, not cut off from street life, but they all had cooks and housekeepers. The author's father, though--he became rich in the wool industry. He did have a factory. In the years leading up to the Second World War, more Jews from Europe showed up in the extended family there--"the Schwab," from Swabia in Germany who married into the family, and his sister Flora, pianist and love-magnet.... But the family remained a variety of Mediterranean people, emotional and effusive, demonstrative and superstitious. For example, the colorful curses: "May a curse fall on the orifice that spawned you and your mother's religion", and the relatively mild "May you rot in sixty hells." The author's father, and his father before him, had wandering eyes and various infidelities. There was the Greek governess who was outraged at the scurrilous lie about Jesus being a Jew. The family members had internalized negativity about Jews. When they argued, their anti-Jewish stereotypes could come out in the name calling. There was also the belief that "(i)t's because of Jews like them that they hate Jews like us" (that being a view from inside a stigmatized minority, but not the essence of racism). There was nothing about synagogues in their life, that I remember, anyway, their religious life seeming to be more nearly in the realm of table fellowship and centered in the home. One of the few parts I did remember was the charming scoundrel of an uncle, Vili, who ended up with an anglicized name and a manor in England, but could still be heard under his door at night murmuring Hebrew prayers before bed. Wikipedia says most Jews left Egypt after the formation of the state of Israel in '48, but, in this picture of Alexandria, the big blow was the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. Some of the last times the whole family was together were during the black-outs when attack by Britain and France was thought imminent. After that, their status changed, and that of the other expatriates, too, given the circumstances, but the Jews were singled out for some special opprobrium. They began to be called "dirty Zionists." Most of the family left then, but the woolens manufacturer was determined to remain if he could. They moved for a while to a different suburb. The author as an adolescent attended a school where he was beaten, until his mother flew off the handle, slapped the teacher, and removed him. The father's notion had been that the boy should adapt so that the family would pass under the radar. Of course ultimately that was not to be. There was no mass persecution but rather a sort of rolling expulsion. Families kept suitcases at the ready, leather, in those days, and the leather odor became associated in the author's mind with the stigma of the fallen, those who had lost everything. The calls to the author's family began in the fall of 1964, the time of Ramadan and Passover coinciding, and finally the call announcing the nationalization of the wool factory, so that the father has "lost her" (the factory); and the call saying they had a week to leave, under which circumstance the last Seder took place with the family remnants together in one place for the final time, amid a sense of the exodus. I'll just throw in that around that time and perhaps confirming that sense of exodus, quail really did fall from the sky, the idea being that after their long migration from as far away as Siberia they would literally fall exhausted to earth, whereupon the locals could catch them and feast. Who knew? People who grew up near warm coasts, not only those born-and-bred Mediterraneans who were having to leave Alexandria, seem to have it in their blood. One of my sisters-in-law is deeply rooted in the Orlando area, and now her children, too, are rooted there. One of my husband's nieces moved with her husband to a part of North Carolina where the winters and the snow far outstrip ours here, but after a couple of years they were drawn back. My husband, in contrast, left Orlando and never looked back, but his parents were not originally from there. It doesn't look like I'm going to leave Atlanta nor have I had to be uprooted. For me it's the trees.... I've left out the whole saga of the author's mother, a beautiful and intelligent woman who was deaf and who came up in an era of forced integration into the hearing community via lipreading, leading to further challenges. Signing wasn't yet accepted. He wrote about her and her influence on him in this March, 2014 piece in The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    3.5 stars. One benefit of reading this memoir is what you learn about the climate of Egypt after the Egyptian revolution and the Suez Canal Company debacle, how it must have felt for a Jewish-European family living and doing business in Egypt. I must admit, I liked False Papers better because I love Aciman as an essayist. I probably cheated though, because False Papers is what comes after Aciman's exile from Egypt. Andre Aciman came of age in Egypt during Nasser's pan-Arabic and anti-imperialist 3.5 stars. One benefit of reading this memoir is what you learn about the climate of Egypt after the Egyptian revolution and the Suez Canal Company debacle, how it must have felt for a Jewish-European family living and doing business in Egypt. I must admit, I liked False Papers better because I love Aciman as an essayist. I probably cheated though, because False Papers is what comes after Aciman's exile from Egypt. Andre Aciman came of age in Egypt during Nasser's pan-Arabic and anti-imperialist reign. His family members were Turks, Italians, and Frenchmen. They were a family of privilege, as you can tell in the beginning when he describes his grandmothers: "Each was accompanied by a boy servant whom neither trusted or talked to but whose job it was to trail behind his wise old mazmazelle--all European ladies of a certain age and station were called mademoiselle or signors in Egypt." Throughout the book, he shows the family's fears of the Germans suddenly appearing and hauling them off to concentration camps. The story takes you with the family during the unrest in Egypt, and the war, when France, Israel, and England attacked after Nasser tried to nationalize the Suez Canal Company. Later, he shows how his family is at first annihilated and forced to leave Egypt because as a method of retaliating against the countries who warred with him, President Nasser forced their citizens to leave. And because of Israel, anyone who was a Jew was expected to leave as well. How terrible it must have been for a young child, to see your father lose his entire business (his factory was forcibly closed), to be called "dirty Jew" on the streets, and not know what was really happening at the time. The memoir is a family memoir that highlights classicism and civil unrest. It opens with explanations about what seems to be an aristocratic lineage, where grandmother is referred to as "The Princess." The book is slow-going though, and I wasn't hooked until Aciman mentioned his deaf mother, because through her, I was finally able to see him. Her inability to hear during the blackout raids, her struggle to be accepted by society and by her in-laws, were emotional details that truly highlighted the severity of the situation for him, through her, especially since he was always with his mother. Only, she doesn't get mentioned until 100 pages in. Only then would it hit me, this truth about her ears, that she would always be deaf, never hear music, never hear laughter, never hear my voice. Only then did I realize what it means to be alone in this world, and I would run to find her in this large house that became so quiet, so empty, and so very dark at night, because nighttime in our part of Alexandria was always somber and murky, especially with my father out so late every evening. There were moments during the war, when the family had to seek shelter in the dark and Aciman tries to show what it must have been for his mother. I looked over to where my mother was sitting. In the dark, she could not read lips. I watched as she dreamily eased a bone from the fish, looking at no one in particular, talking to no one, yet obviously thinking about something, because, after bringing her fork to her mouth, she stopped chewing an instant and let an imperceptible shrug escape her shoulders. Mother caught me looking at her. "Why aren't you eating?" she asked merely by shaking her head at me. "It's horrible," I grimaced.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ruby Hollyberry

    This book is utterly fascinating. This family of Turkish Jews speaks a form of Spanish (except the ones who speak German), tell people they are Italian, identify with France, and live in Alexandria Egypt, before leaving due to war and the same seizure of goods they suffered a generation or two earlier in Turkey. They have had many turns of fortune and fate, and the most successful family members double as spies/con artists as much as businessmen. The author is a much-loved, spoiled child of a ti This book is utterly fascinating. This family of Turkish Jews speaks a form of Spanish (except the ones who speak German), tell people they are Italian, identify with France, and live in Alexandria Egypt, before leaving due to war and the same seizure of goods they suffered a generation or two earlier in Turkey. They have had many turns of fortune and fate, and the most successful family members double as spies/con artists as much as businessmen. The author is a much-loved, spoiled child of a tight-knit but not at all happy family, where everyone talks behind each others' backs and vies in competition and neurosis. The two grandmothers, the "Princess" and the "Saint", are the best-drawn characters, both madly in love with their grandson in their very different ways. His extravagant, wildly unfaithful father was apparently very briefly in love with his mother, the beautiful deaf girl that lived directly across the street. Status and superiority preoccupy the thoughts of the majority of the family members, and they can brood on their differences and unjust losses all their lives. They seem readier to forgive dictators than the other members of the family! He, the boy, adores all of them; he did then and he does at the time of writing, after they have been scattered to Italy, England, with him in NY, and nearly all are deceased, although they all seem to have lived too long for their own tastes.

  6. 4 out of 5

    D

    I agree with this appreciation. I agree with this appreciation.

  7. 4 out of 5

    يوسف زهدى

    A controversial humanitarian read, you can call it a story or a memorial (as the author did) or a partial biography of European Jewish family & community living in Alexandria - Egypt between the early years of the 20th century till the forced deportation of foreigners and Jews by Nasser regime (1900s-1960s). Andre Aciman - family, extended family and community were rich Jews with European passports, they settled in Alexandria after moving from Turkey late in 1800s-eartly 1900s and established var A controversial humanitarian read, you can call it a story or a memorial (as the author did) or a partial biography of European Jewish family & community living in Alexandria - Egypt between the early years of the 20th century till the forced deportation of foreigners and Jews by Nasser regime (1900s-1960s). Andre Aciman - family, extended family and community were rich Jews with European passports, they settled in Alexandria after moving from Turkey late in 1800s-eartly 1900s and established various businesses in textiles, trading, cars, etc.. The first half of the book (boring somehow) tells the story of the grandparents, grand-grandparents, fathers and mothers of Adnre as been told to him from various family talks, they were a rich gito, aristocrats thinking of locals as second degree human and servants, living together marrying from each other only and being part of great events of world war 1 then world war 2 in the 1910s-1940s, the idea of being a foreigner in a country like Egypt which was between two sides of the battle shows a different perspective of everything! moving to middle part of the book till its end (getting much more interesting) with Nasser era pan of Arab nationalism, the media and country direction of treating Jews as one package as enemies of the state, arresting, confiscation of their assets then force deportation out of Egypt which some of their generations are born in and others lived most of their lives in it. Reading this from a Muslim, Human, Egyptian and Arab perspectives rang many bells in my head but always the master verse from Qura'an was " لا ينهاكم الله عن الذين لم يقاتلوكم في الدين ولم يخرجوكم من دياركم أن تبروهم وتقسطوا إليهم إن الله يحب المقسطين" so why shouldn't we apply it! yes we've problems with Jews but mainly with Israeli occupation, its supporters and people, anyone who act violence against Muslims or Humanity shall be our enemy, but what happen when we do this ourselves?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    3.5 stars. Parts of OUT OF EGYPT were fascinating and other parts confusing and boring. André Aciman's account of growing up in Alexandria, Egypt, from his birth in 1951 to his large, quirky Jewish family's regretful departure from the city in 1965 actually delves farther into the past when some in the family arrived from Constantinople in 1905 with others joining later when their second homes in Europe became unsafe or economically unviable during world wars and other political events. Family m 3.5 stars. Parts of OUT OF EGYPT were fascinating and other parts confusing and boring. André Aciman's account of growing up in Alexandria, Egypt, from his birth in 1951 to his large, quirky Jewish family's regretful departure from the city in 1965 actually delves farther into the past when some in the family arrived from Constantinople in 1905 with others joining later when their second homes in Europe became unsafe or economically unviable during world wars and other political events. Family members held a variety of nationalities, largely Italian, and spoke many languages, mainly French and Ladino. Family relationships were complex, especially among the women, and I found it hard to sort out the grandmothers, the aunts, and the wives and what they were always arguing about. The constant bickering did not make pleasant reading and it was difficult to like these women excepting perhaps André's mother, the beautiful deaf woman who struggled to communicate by lip reading and speaking as best she could. André's formal schooling was a nightmare but he did have some interesting private tutors. For a boy who didn't naturally take to his studies, he turned into a fine reader and an equally fine writer. He is today a novelist (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME has just been made into a popular movie) and college professor (he is a Proust specialist). The city of Alexandria shines like a jewel here, but everything comes under the shadow of Gamal Abdel Nasser and his nationalization program. First came the Suez Canal, then "foreigners" were not allowed to take money out of the country, and then one by one they were expelled and their businesses taken over by the Egyptian government. This happened to Aciman's family, and they suffered harassment and uncertainty before the final blow fell. The description of this experience is one of the most compelling parts of the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Don

    André Aciman's memoir of growing up Jewish -- and speaking French -- in post-World War II Alexandria. His family had moved to that city from Constantinople in 1905, back when both cities lay within the Ottoman Empire. Aciman found his native city -- along with his family -- to be a treasure chest of strange sights, quirky personalities and bizarre events. He lovingly describes each of his dysfuntional family members, relying on his own memory,the memories of others, and stories and documentation André Aciman's memoir of growing up Jewish -- and speaking French -- in post-World War II Alexandria. His family had moved to that city from Constantinople in 1905, back when both cities lay within the Ottoman Empire. Aciman found his native city -- along with his family -- to be a treasure chest of strange sights, quirky personalities and bizarre events. He lovingly describes each of his dysfuntional family members, relying on his own memory,the memories of others, and stories and documentation describing those who had lived their lives before his birth in 1951. Aciman, a scholar of Proust who is now a professor at CUNY, lovingly weaves together a montage of his own memories and those of his relatives, bringing back to life a city that sadly no longer exists. Together with the rest of Alexandria's large Jewish population -- in fact, together with virtually all non-Muslims -- he and his family went into forced exile in the 1960's. The Arab nationalist government of Egypt confiscated all their property, leaving the family scattered about Europe, living in poverty. There is no poverty in Aciman's imagination, however, or in his use of the English language.

  10. 4 out of 5

    A.M. Khalifa

    Beautifully written. Deliciously nostalgic, evocative, heart-warming and immediately addictive. Especially emotionally pertinent for anyone with a connection to Egypt, to reminisce on how this country was not that long ago a melting pot of tolerance, vibrance and sophistication. Cannot recommend it enough.

  11. 4 out of 5

    PS

    Ugh, such beautiful writing. I may have cried a couple of times reading this.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mmars

    Because Aciman's extended family, and not himself, seemed his primary focus it is unfortunate that who was who was so unclear. It think his intention was to present the Jewish experience in and expulsion from Alexandria in the 1900s. However, his family was his focus, and I was unable to get comfortable with the characters and therefore unable to enjoy the stories. His mother was quite clear to me, but the "nicknamed" grandmothers and various others were muddled and became a roadblock for me. Th Because Aciman's extended family, and not himself, seemed his primary focus it is unfortunate that who was who was so unclear. It think his intention was to present the Jewish experience in and expulsion from Alexandria in the 1900s. However, his family was his focus, and I was unable to get comfortable with the characters and therefore unable to enjoy the stories. His mother was quite clear to me, but the "nicknamed" grandmothers and various others were muddled and became a roadblock for me. There were some wonderfully funny passages, but I am unable to recommend this title to most readers.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wils Cain

    I really enjoy Aciman's writing and have heard him speak publicly - and now after knowing his grandparents' and parents' life stories as well as his own early life story - I almost feel like I know him. It's a weird feeling to feel like you know someone you've never actually met. Great story of his family's migration from Turkey through to Egypt and beyond through many periods of war - country vs country and sometimes just family member vs family member. I really enjoy Aciman's writing and have heard him speak publicly - and now after knowing his grandparents' and parents' life stories as well as his own early life story - I almost feel like I know him. It's a weird feeling to feel like you know someone you've never actually met. Great story of his family's migration from Turkey through to Egypt and beyond through many periods of war - country vs country and sometimes just family member vs family member.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    An appealing memoir of Aciman's Sephardic family life in Alexandria in the 1950s and 60s, from his earliest childhood until the time the family was forced to leave Egypt when he was 15. His grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and wider circles of family and friends are sketched with perceptive wit and affection as the violent events of the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath swirl around them. Loved it. An appealing memoir of Aciman's Sephardic family life in Alexandria in the 1950s and 60s, from his earliest childhood until the time the family was forced to leave Egypt when he was 15. His grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and wider circles of family and friends are sketched with perceptive wit and affection as the violent events of the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath swirl around them. Loved it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex Anacki

    I have been working through Aciman's bibliography for several months now, and Out of Egypt was the second to last book I had yet to read. There are many patterns of characters and speech manifested in each of his books, and I see now that they all originate in Out of Egypt. It is a fundamental guide to understanding his line of thought and the lush excess many of his characters are marked by — the distinctly European easygoing influence, where life is slow and rich in food and language and readi I have been working through Aciman's bibliography for several months now, and Out of Egypt was the second to last book I had yet to read. There are many patterns of characters and speech manifested in each of his books, and I see now that they all originate in Out of Egypt. It is a fundamental guide to understanding his line of thought and the lush excess many of his characters are marked by — the distinctly European easygoing influence, where life is slow and rich in food and language and reading. In particular, his memoir is a good choice to precede reading Call Me By Your Name, Harvard Square, and perhaps even the first chapter of Enigma Variations. Aciman said this in an interview with Publishers Weekly: If you look at the stuff I've written in my life, it's all very much the same. Simon and Garfunkel wrote, like, one song they kept composing and recomposing every single time in a different way. But it's the same song. That's all great writers, I think, and all great composers. They are composing one or two ditties and that's it. The rest is just variations—profound variations. In reading Aciman's work, I have always been struck by the affluence and intelligence of his characters. Elio's well-read and cultured family in Call Me By Your Name lives in a beautiful home in picturesque northern Italy, complete with doting staff who are part of the family (yet markedly distinct). Paul of Enigma Variations is private-school-educated and his life has a veneer of plentitude, much like the pretentious narrator of Eight White Nights who sees Rohmer films nightly with his almost-lover Clara who is somehow caught up in her own intellect more than he. You can guess Harvard Square is a similar way. I love these books; their excess does not distract nor is it unrealistic, but it had left me wondering. Finally, after reading Out of Egypt, I can see exactly from where Aciman gleans his inspiration: his 14 years of childhood in Alexandria, where he is surrounded by a multilingual cast of characters in his multigenerational family and their paid help in Nasser's increasingly un-European Egypt. Each chapter brings you to a new stage of Aciman's youth, and his personality takes shape as he ages and becomes less of a child and more of a young adult, this transformation completed in his mind as he runs errands and transmits bribes one day during his family's expulsion from Egypt at age 13. In the first three chapters, he is a bit player, though his years of perspective and extensive discussions with his family members who remained alive 20-30 years later undoubtedly shaped his perception. To age so rapidly in this setting is not surprising: a cheating father, a deaf (yet fiercely independent) mother who required his assistance, an increasingly authoritarian and Muslim Egypt, a school where he was (to borrow from Call Me By Your Name) "the odd Jew out" and where his principal referred to him as "dog of the Arabs." These characters are not flat. Aciman takes time to mold them, even as it becomes increasingly challenging for the reader to keep tabs on which side of the family the Princess and the Saint are from, who is a servant and who is a tutor, which aunt and uncle is which. (I do really wish he included a family tree and a character list with explanations. I would have referred to it often and my comprehension of this book would be much better). He is conscious of racism (or at least he was in 1994 when this was published) and his family, oppressed as they are being Jews in a shifting Egypt, has several members who are fiercely anti-Arab even as these very Arabs maintain their lavish and educated lives. During the present day, where Jewish/Arab conflict between Israel and Palestine is very real, it is fascinating to see it play out along similar lines earlier in the region's history. I had no idea before reading this how diverse Egypt once was. Aciman never says this, but I get the sense that their lives aren't even that lavish in the context of the rest of Alexandria. Perhaps he is too clouded by affluence to see. While paid staff are characterized in detail, there is a sense of their own life missing. That is not unexpected; the story is about his family. I caught myself wondering about class and race throughout. In The Lotus-Eaters, he characterizes a story with servants like this: I would sit on a fourth stool, while Abdou clipped away at his large toenails with giant chicken shears, and Fawziah, sitting with the open kitchen door swinging between her knees, drummed elaborate rhythms on both sides of it, tapping away with such speed that it drove our one-armed Hisham to stand up and imitate the vibrant hip twirls of a third-rate belly dancer. His grandmother was repulsed by his practicing the rhythm (he says she found it "revolting") and saw it as a reason he must leave Egypt and live a more Western life. I found this description to be unnecessarily garish — the servant clipping his toenails with chicken shears? The one-armed servant mimicking a third-rate belly dancer? It is complicated, and he says it is such in earlier chapters, particularly Rue Memphis, I believe. Everyone seemed to agree, including my parents and Aunt Flora. I cannot fault him for his own childhood; he is simply relaying what happened. It is the story of a multinational Jewish family in a place where they no longer "belong". I just wonder what it was like for, say, Signor Dall'Abaco, or Abdou, whose poor kind and intelligent son was beheaded! What a special youth he had, though. Even in the face of such tumult, he was lucky to be surrounded by such an interesting family, even if he admittedly did not always love them. To learn so many languages (Arabic, Greek, Italian) even in passing is special. His characterizations of his family's time in Mandara over the summer is breathtaking, mostly for that of nature: I looked up into the morning's crystal glare. The air smelled fresh, new, as though unbreathed by humans, the way it always smells at the beginning of a summer day that is bound to turn unbearably hot. Even the dunes felt clean, soaking up the glare, so that after looking up at the sky we had to look down, to be soothed by the color of sand around us, unable even to look at the villas ahead. I had only to lift up my eyes, and there would be the sea. Aciman is a master of quotes like these, ones that leave you reading them over and over again to feel that sense of wonder anew that one gets when reading something profoundly beautiful and just so right. The final quote that really did it for me was at the end of The Lotus-Eaters where he is discussing Signor Dall'Abaco, who earlier in the chapter mentioned that the elaborate bronze knockers in Mandara would sell well one day. "When we heard they were rebuilding Mandara, we immediately rushed to the villa and it was Mario himself who took it down. He used it as a paperweight. He would have wanted you to have it. He went peacefully a year ago. Remember me, your loving Roxy." The knocker has never left me. It sits on my desk today. The most unique part of this memoir is not the setting, nor the family members. It is the special care Aciman writes with so many years later of a time and a place where life was much simpler and to where he could return, but where nothing would ever be the same. The ending of the book, which explains that feeling in better terms, is perfect and very clearly models a changing Egypt and that sense that nothing will remain of what once was. To love a place so deeply is a very special feeling, indeed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Cook

    “All those who discuss the departure from Egypt in detail are considered praiseworthy." — Passover Haggadah “Say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing." — Cavafy, “The God Abandons Antony” The phrase “Out of Egypt” is richly evocative. To a contemporary reader, it brings to mind Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen’s “Out of Africa”, a lyrical meditation on life as a member of a privileged colonial class. To anyone with a passing familiarity with the Hebrew Bible, it has a the significance of repre “All those who discuss the departure from Egypt in detail are considered praiseworthy." — Passover Haggadah “Say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing." — Cavafy, “The God Abandons Antony” The phrase “Out of Egypt” is richly evocative. To a contemporary reader, it brings to mind Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen’s “Out of Africa”, a lyrical meditation on life as a member of a privileged colonial class. To anyone with a passing familiarity with the Hebrew Bible, it has a the significance of representing an escape from captivity, and a corresponding communal sense of obligation: — “I am the LORD that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy”. This astonishingly rich memoir alludes to both aspects. But it is really about a second exodus out of Egypt. In the mid-twentieth century, most Egyptian Jews were driving from the country by the Nasser government’s official and militant anti-Semitism. The Aciman family were among them. Lawrence Durrell famously celebrated Alexandria in the 1940s as a city of “Five races, five languages, a dozen creeds.” By the end of the twentieth century, it was a city of one language (Arabic), and of largely one race and one creed. This is the story of the transition between the two, as told by a man who lived through it as a child. André Aciman was born in Alexandria in 1951. This makes him two years younger than my father. But his memoirs make his childhood sound like something out of the inter-war period if not actually La Belle Époque. This may reflect a life lived among grandparents who remembered the Ottoman Empire. It is probably also at least partially literary fancy. As an academic, Aciman specializes in Proust, and can’t quite resist making his childhood Proustian in every sense. Proust, however, was pretty clearly French. In contrast, Aciman’s family were true cosmopolitans, and this is a major focus of the book. At one point, the young André is asked what nationality he is. He assumes that he must be French, as that is the language his family speaks at home. He is shocked and offended to discover that this is not true, that his family came to Egypt from Constantinople. He writes that Everyone in the family had talked almost daily about a faraway, gaslit world called Turkey, where ignorance, dirt, disease, theft, and massacres prevailed. It never occurred to me that I was Turkish because of this. I felt sullied, mocked, betrayed. As in all cosmopolitan communities, questions of language are always at the forefront. The book is full of references to languages of diaspora. French is recognized to be not one language, but many. There is "good socialite French," and "the awkward way in which Armenians spoke French." Then there is the French heard over the radio from Europe: the French of movie stars, the French my uncles mimicked but never mastered, the French one made fun of but secretly envied, the French one claimed one didn't care to speak, the way some might say that they didn't care for certain cheeses because no Brie or Saint André could ever compete with a good hearty slice of fresh Greek feta. ... It was a French that made us feel remote, dated, inferior. Even the homey feta-like French was sometimes felt too formal for the Aciman family. In one of the most stunning passages in the book, the author describes his two grandmothers lapsing into Ladino or Judaeo-Spanish: Ladino spoke of their homesickness for Constantinople. To them, it was a language of loosened neckties, unbuttoned shirts, and overused slippers, a language as intimate, as natural, as necessary as the odor of one's sheets, one's closets, of one's cooking. They returned to it after speaking French, with the gratified relief of left-handed people who, once in private, are no longer forced to do things with their right. All had studied and knew French exceedingly well, the way Lysias knew Greek — that is, better than the Athenians— gliding through the imperfect subjunctive with the unruffled ease of those who never err when it comes to grammar because, despite all their efforts, they will never be native speakers. But French was a foreign, stuffy idiom." As Egyptian Jews, Aciman’s family were in an impossible situation. The first time we sense how much danger they are in comes when they take refuge from an air raid. They had been caught up in Operation Musketeer, an Anglo-French plan to capture cities along the Suez canal, including Alexandria and Port Said. The Aciman family found themselves sheltering from bombs dropped by the allies of Israel. Soon, though, they would find themselves victimized by the Egyptian government for being alleged Israeli sympathizers. Most Egyptian Jews left the country after the war in 1956. The Aciman's stayed for another eight years. They attempted various forms of assimilation. One uncle finds a sympathetic Greek Orthodox priest who baptizes him whilst acknowledging that his practice will be "Communion on Sundays, but Fridays the Shema." André's immediate family takes a different route, trying to become as much like their Arab neighbors as possible. André was enrolled in Victoria College, a public school run on British lines (and the alma mater of Omar Sharif and Edward Said, as well as Hussein I of Jordan and Simeon II of Bulgaria). By this point in history, the school's student body is almost entirely Arabic, and some of the lessons are taught in Arabic, a language André cannot speak. There is one extended scene, which reaches Catch-22 levels of tragico-comedy. Young André’s father is furious that his son isn’t doing any of his Arabic homework, and insists on him memorizing the poem he has been set. The problem is that neither André, nor his parents, nor his governess can actually speak Arabic. So they call their servant, who speaks Arabic but does not read it. He calls his son, who can read and write. His son is ashamed that he has to teach André the poem because it is a crude piece of propaganda about how the heroic Egyptians under Nasser have triumphed over the Europeans and Jews. André is aware enough to realize he is being vilified but nevertheless takes some evident pride in finally making progress in Arabic. (This story, unfortunately, ends even less happily than one might imagine). Despite this, the family persists in trying to be "good Egyptians." André acquires an Arabic tutor, who has him copy out Suras from the Quran. The whole family stands on the Corniche to cheer Nasser's motorcade as it passes. But their situation becomes more and more untenable. In 1965, at Passover, the Aciman family left Egypt. At their last seder, the 14-year-old André refused to read the four questions. His grandmother rebukes him. "Are you ashamed of being Jewish? Is that it? What kind of Jews are we then?" His reply: "the kind who don't celebrate leaving Egypt when it's the last thing they want to do". But leave Egypt they did. In 1965, Passover and Ramadan coincided, so their departure was to the sounds of fireworks. A noisy street festival, as heard by Cavafy's Antony.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marko Theodore Mravunac

    This was my fourth Aciman and tbh I didn't really vibe with the book the first almost half, it was one of those wrong book at the wrong time situations so I had to stop reading it for a little bit and when I got back to it, I remembered why I loved Aciman and his writing style! I basically fell in love with a city I've never been to. This was my fourth Aciman and tbh I didn't really vibe with the book the first almost half, it was one of those wrong book at the wrong time situations so I had to stop reading it for a little bit and when I got back to it, I remembered why I loved Aciman and his writing style! I basically fell in love with a city I've never been to.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Malak Shalaby

    It's a new favourite! loved every minute of reading it, language is perfect full of allusions, symbols and metaphors. Alexandria is depicted in such a raw, unfiltered light. An emotional and homey read. It's a new favourite! loved every minute of reading it, language is perfect full of allusions, symbols and metaphors. Alexandria is depicted in such a raw, unfiltered light. An emotional and homey read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carolina Novo

    Aciman is always unforgettable.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jadon Grove

    I think the quote on the back cover says it best: "this is...the tale of a vanished multicultural world...and the life of a young man doomed to say goodbye." It continues, "[The author gives] each character a sprightly life and a disarming humaneness." While I wouldn't go so far as to say it was a particularly moving memoir, it is fascinating to put yourself in the shoes of Andre Aciman as a young boy in Alexandria, Egypt who seems to have a revolving door of cosmopolitan people and experiences. I think the quote on the back cover says it best: "this is...the tale of a vanished multicultural world...and the life of a young man doomed to say goodbye." It continues, "[The author gives] each character a sprightly life and a disarming humaneness." While I wouldn't go so far as to say it was a particularly moving memoir, it is fascinating to put yourself in the shoes of Andre Aciman as a young boy in Alexandria, Egypt who seems to have a revolving door of cosmopolitan people and experiences. The book struggles to make you care about any of the characters (except possibly for his mother), and it doesn't seem to have the final piece of any of their stories. I kept getting agitated because I would finally start to understand the pieces of a single scene when it would change to a new set of characters, locations, and timelines. Read it if you're going through Aciman's work; otherwise, there are better memoirs from Middle Eastern Jews. I had to fight to finish this one for my Goodreads 2019 challenge, but I made it!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Beatrice

    A wonderful memoir. Sincere, often bittersweet, always heartfelt 💙

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ginger Rubin

    Review to come!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melly Ratu

    I'm aware that the comparison's been made before, but I can't say enough how the experience of reading Aciman replicates in me the feeling I get from watching an Eric Rohmer movie. Both experiences give me vivid imagery in the form of an atmosphere, of an aura. It's not so much imageries of a materially observable environment that Aciman's a master of, but instead, a specific kind of imagery relating to ambience, to sun-lit moods, and sweetness in the air. It did this perfectly with Call Me by Y I'm aware that the comparison's been made before, but I can't say enough how the experience of reading Aciman replicates in me the feeling I get from watching an Eric Rohmer movie. Both experiences give me vivid imagery in the form of an atmosphere, of an aura. It's not so much imageries of a materially observable environment that Aciman's a master of, but instead, a specific kind of imagery relating to ambience, to sun-lit moods, and sweetness in the air. It did this perfectly with Call Me by Your Name. And it did it just as well, if not better, in Out of Egypt. The descriptions were so intensely vivid, I could almost smell the parsley, and olives brimming out of my book as Aciman wrote about the hummus being cooked in the kitchen. I could feel the drunkenness filling me as I read about Aunt Flora's night filled with red wine playing Schubert’s B-flat major sonata while the Nazis threatened the city before El Alamein. I adore it. Another thing I love is Aciman's positioning of himself in telling his family's life story in Alexandria from the outside looking in. It offers a perspective that's almost humanitarian. Aciman's employ of describing the anti-Arab racism from his family that was experienced by his beloved helpers, the antisemitism of the local Arabs towards him in formal institutions and school, and then on top of that the bigotry and high-brow snobbery rooted in class distinction inside the Jewish community itself, mostly directed from European Jews (family from his father side), towards non-European and Arab/Syrian Jews (family from his mother side), it's all done in a fascinating way that was almost kind, that offered enough ambiguity for us to decipher it by ourselves, that allowed complex and indefinitive array of emotions to exist. And moreover, it's also done entertainingly, with enough tongue-in-cheek hilarity. Reading Aciman's life as an unwavering anti-imperialist, I feel humbled by the contextualization of rampant racism and antisemitism that came into rise in Egypt with Nasser's anti-imperial and pan-Africanist regime. But then, not long after, Aciman also made me laugh—borderline scoff—in incredulity at his family's out-of-touch and bourgeois Western elitism that I can only compare to a false sense of white superiority. Also, you will almost forget this is a memoir! Aciman's way of retelling his life in a novel narration style made me sure that the memoir would've worked as well as a fiction if it's ever branded as one. After reading Out of Egypt, the excess of his characters in his other books that's often become an object of criticism, finally makes sense and does not come off as unrealistic anymore. It makes sense now that you've read this multi-generational family saga filled with eccentric and lively characters of Sephardic Jews with Turkish nationality who all spoke +5 languages yet oddly preferred to casually burst a phrase or two in French when gathered together.. of these people who grew up speaking a rarely spoken Jewish language of Spanish-derivative called Ladino.. Jews who despite belonging from Turkey, told people they're Italians while living in Alexandria, in a home often enlivened by their Greek colleagues while the kids were being tutored Arabic and Japanese in a separate room. Ugh, it is purely charming. It's one of my favorite books now.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jim Leffert

    It’s a beautifully written, intimate memoir about growing up in a Jewish family of Sephardic heritage in Alexandria, Egypt. We learn about the family’s experiences from World War II, before Andre Aciman was born, until 1965, when Andre was 15 and the family was forced to leave Egypt. Andre’s extended family were nominally Italian citizens but had been living in Constantinople. In 1908, Andre’s great uncle encouraged the entire family to go to Egypt to seek economic opportunities, since the great It’s a beautifully written, intimate memoir about growing up in a Jewish family of Sephardic heritage in Alexandria, Egypt. We learn about the family’s experiences from World War II, before Andre Aciman was born, until 1965, when Andre was 15 and the family was forced to leave Egypt. Andre’s extended family were nominally Italian citizens but had been living in Constantinople. In 1908, Andre’s great uncle encouraged the entire family to go to Egypt to seek economic opportunities, since the great uncle's boarding school friend, Fouad, was now king. Aciman's family was part of a Levantine Jewish community in Alexandria that, for the most part, was assimilating and prided itself on its European ways. They played down their Jewish culture (although many in the family spoke Ladino at home) and tried to appear and act as European as possible. This meant distancing themselves from and looking down on the indigenous Arabic culture. However, since the family was surrounded by local people who were servants and Andre played with their children, he nonetheless absorbed the indigenous culture more than the grownups did. Aciman describes his family lovingly but depicts their all too human flaws and quirks in bold relief. His story beautifully captures, from a child’s perspective, the strivings and competition among these not always likeable characters. Although the book is a valentine to the life Aciman left behind, it also describes how the development of Egyptian nationalism and anti-colonialism under Nasser and growing anti-Israel sentiment created an untenable situation for the Jewish community. Aciman describes how his father, desperate to stay in Egypt, tries to demonstrate his loyalty to the Egyptian nation by sending Andre to an Arabic-speaking school. In a memorable episode, young Andre faces the assignment of memorizing an anti-Semitic poem and reciting it to the class. Although Andre’s his father insists that Andre do it, he balks. Compare and contrast: Aciman’s story resembles Carlos Eire’s memoir of childhood exile from Cuba, Waiting for Snow in Havana, except that it grated on me that Eire is so wounded by his experience that he idealizes his childhood experience in a privileged section of Havana and shows little appreciation of the oppression that supported his privileged existence. Aciman, similarly, barely acknowledges the oppression that colonialism and an incompetent monarchy wreaked upon the Egyptian masses but this didn’t bother me, perhaps because Aciman’s focus is on bringing to life his family and community and doesn’t idealize them. We do know (from a personal communication) that Aciman is bitter about what happened in Egypt and contemptuous of the direction Nasser took the Egyptian people. Sasson Samekh’s book Baghdad, Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew tells of a Jewish teenager growing up in Iraq in the 1940’s who did not embrace European culture. He develops a love of classical Arabic literature and finds common cause with young Arab intellectuals, poets, and leftist activists until the pressure of nationalism, anti-Semitism, and opposition to Israel drives them apart.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Beautiful and interesting memoir.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Rosner

    A beautifully written memoir, particularly relevant and poignant given recent events in the Middle East. Lawrence Durrell wrote in his Alexandria Quartet that Alexandria was shared by "five races, five languages, a dozen creeds: five fleets turning through their greasy reflections behind the harbor bar. But there are more than five sexes." But as Paul Theroux wrote in his travelogue of the Mediterranean (The Pillars of Hercules), "Alexandria is [now] a monoglot city of one race, Arabic-speaking A A beautifully written memoir, particularly relevant and poignant given recent events in the Middle East. Lawrence Durrell wrote in his Alexandria Quartet that Alexandria was shared by "five races, five languages, a dozen creeds: five fleets turning through their greasy reflections behind the harbor bar. But there are more than five sexes." But as Paul Theroux wrote in his travelogue of the Mediterranean (The Pillars of Hercules), "Alexandria is [now] a monoglot city of one race, Arabic-speaking Arabs; and one creed, Islam; and no sex. The foreigners had gone - the last had been expelled by General Nasser in 1960 - and the money was gone, too...". Aciman's book is in many ways a telling of how this came about, but it's much more than that. It's also a rich family history populated by a marvelous set of characters, including Aciman's great-uncle Vili, by turns a soldier, womanizer, wheeler-dealer and ultimately, a spy; Aciman's Italian tutor Signor Dall'Abaco, a gentle man who loved Italian opera and "who was born to stay out of everyone's way"; a beautiful governess; a tyrannical headmistress; and many, many more. It was an almost magical world and its loss is all the more felt when one sees the Alexandria of today. Indeed, despite recent events in Egypt, the country seems to be becoming more monoglot than ever - just ask the Copts. I leave the last word to Aciman's grandfather: "All this sky and all this water - what do you do with so much blue once you've seen it?" Indeed.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I wanted to like this book. I began it eagerly and in the perfect state of mind. But alas....I got about 100 pages in, all the while hoping the writing would clear up and the myriad characters would firm up in my head. This was incredibly disjointed...jarringly so. I’d be in the middle of one conversation between two people and suddenly, with zero transition cues, one of the characters would be talking to someone else altogether. This happen constantly. Never mind it was almost impossible to kee I wanted to like this book. I began it eagerly and in the perfect state of mind. But alas....I got about 100 pages in, all the while hoping the writing would clear up and the myriad characters would firm up in my head. This was incredibly disjointed...jarringly so. I’d be in the middle of one conversation between two people and suddenly, with zero transition cues, one of the characters would be talking to someone else altogether. This happen constantly. Never mind it was almost impossible to keep straight in ones mind, which character was doing or saying what because he refers to people by a ridiculous number of names and family titles. The little vignettes bear no connection to each other and often have entire “asides” with other characters included in the middle of them.....and not in any clear or obvious way! I read a tremendous amount across a wide variety of writing styles so I am no stranger to a “complicated book”, but this was ridiculous. And yet....despite the utter lack of coherence...there was charm here. The picture that emerged, of a large family in Alexandria, was one I wanted to know more about. The characters, whoever the hell they were, were intriguing, albeit extremely contentious and quarrelsome. I am very disappointed. And also quite flummoxed by so many glowing reviews!!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mark Dickson

    “this city, so inseparable from who I was at that very instant, and how it would slip into time and become stranger than dreamland” The second half of this book is much better than the first. The emotion came through in the final chapter and I was there with him during the final Seder. There’s a nonlinear aspect to the writing in this where the aftermath of an event is discussed in depth, then we’ll flash back and see the actual event occur. It was a decision that didn’t add anything other than co “this city, so inseparable from who I was at that very instant, and how it would slip into time and become stranger than dreamland” The second half of this book is much better than the first. The emotion came through in the final chapter and I was there with him during the final Seder. There’s a nonlinear aspect to the writing in this where the aftermath of an event is discussed in depth, then we’ll flash back and see the actual event occur. It was a decision that didn’t add anything other than confusion. It took until the midway point when Aciman actually begins to feature in the story for me to connect with it and connect to characters. I could have done without the introductory chapters on his great uncle and grandparents. There was too much assumed knowledge about the people and their relationships that made me lose track of who everyone was very quickly. I couldn’t tell you who most people were, which made it difficult to connect to the long portions on them. There would regularly be someone who in my head was in their 40s/50s, but would turn out to be 95 because Aciman has decided not to tell you anything about them. I enjoyed this book as it went on, but it takes a lot of time to get there. Chop off the first two chapters and this book would be a lot better. There is some great, emotional writing here, but I worry that most people won’t stick around to get there.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trina

    This memoir introduced me to a place, time and culture I found fascinating: an extended family of wealthy Sephardic Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. Aciman was a teenager when he left Alexandria, which was the fate of all or most of the Jews doing private business in Egypt in the 60s. They had come from elsewhere post World War 2 to British-ruled Egypt-- Constantinople (sic), Smyrna (sic), Italy, France, Greece, Syria. Aciman's great-grandmother and great-grandfather had 9 children, and they were all This memoir introduced me to a place, time and culture I found fascinating: an extended family of wealthy Sephardic Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. Aciman was a teenager when he left Alexandria, which was the fate of all or most of the Jews doing private business in Egypt in the 60s. They had come from elsewhere post World War 2 to British-ruled Egypt-- Constantinople (sic), Smyrna (sic), Italy, France, Greece, Syria. Aciman's great-grandmother and great-grandfather had 9 children, and they were all characters. It was sometimes hard to keep track of all the uncles, aunts, cousins and neighbors, and the servants such as the Greek Orthodox governess and the Muslim housekeepers, the Copt and Russian shopkeepers. The author tells the story of life in Alexandria with such tenderness, and emphasizes the nature of Judaism as wanderers without a permanent home.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I really enjoyed this memoir by Andre Aciman, whose Sephardic Jewish family lived in Egypt for 50 years, yet never considered themselves Egyptian and were never able to become Egyptian citizens. They were originally from Spain, were part of the Medieval diaspora, migrated to Constantinople, then migrated to Alexandria in 1905 where they owned businesses and lived every day life using a mixture of French, Ladino, Italian, Turkish and Greek (aside from Aciman himself, they never learned Arabic). T I really enjoyed this memoir by Andre Aciman, whose Sephardic Jewish family lived in Egypt for 50 years, yet never considered themselves Egyptian and were never able to become Egyptian citizens. They were originally from Spain, were part of the Medieval diaspora, migrated to Constantinople, then migrated to Alexandria in 1905 where they owned businesses and lived every day life using a mixture of French, Ladino, Italian, Turkish and Greek (aside from Aciman himself, they never learned Arabic). The cast of characters is no crazier probably than anyone else's family, but Aciman's writing portrays them vividly--you feel like you are a part of the family. The book gives first hand testimonial to the complex and nuanced mosaic of cultures, religions and languages that made up Alexandria and the entire Middle East.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...