Out of Egypt: A Memoir (Anglais) Relié – décembre 1994
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Aciman, like many "Egyptian" Jews preferred to hold European nationalities and in some cases some were French or Italian without ever setting foot in these countries. Europeans had their own courts in Egypt and did not fall under Egyptian Laws. For Aciman, born and raised in Egypt and in many ways no different than many affluent Alexandrians life became unbearable after the waves of Nationalization in the early 60's.
Aciman writes of an Alexandria that no longer exists not just for Egyptian Jews. The population explosion in Egypt has transformed Alexandria beyond recognition; hence Aciman's beautiful writing of Alexandria, its beaches and its tram will bring floods of memories for anyone who's known Alexandria.
Affluent Egyptian Jews who left Egypt in the fifties and sixties are not immediately thought of as refugees and there is little discussion on their issues of identity and affiliation in Egypt and elsewhere. Aciman through his acute sensitivity to the people and events around him and his wonderful story telling skills has produced beautifully written and very touching book that subtly challenges many assumptions on all sides.
Readers will see the very same Alexandria in Leila Ahmed's Border Passage and in parts of Ahdaf Souief's In the Eye of the Sun. Enjoy
Andre Aciman describes his colorful and complicated life (and family)in
Alexandria in the 1960s. Childhoods like that are often the preparation
for a life of writing. The child absorbs all the peculiarities as part of
normal life without knowing they are peculiar until much later. Then they
need to make sense of it all.
All this is heightened by the fact that the Acimans are Jewish, in a
Muslim country still resonating with the after effects of British rule.His
experiences in the theoretically best school in Alexandria, run by
British teachers, would be funny if they weren't so awful. For complete
cognitive dissonance,his parents force him to learn Arabic to survive.
Reading about those lessons alone is worth the price of this book. At
home they speak Ladino, the Sephardic Yiddish, among themselves.
His beautful mother was born deaf. When provoked she can produce a
high-pitched scream. used to good effect at the butcher's. Once she has
made her point they are all quite happy. The butcher has to give the package
to her Arab servant. She never touches an Arab's hand.
The Acimans and Andre's maternal relatives live in a state of mutual
scorn, but when faced with the threats of Pan-Arab nationalism pull together very
efficiently. Eventually they all flee, the sedate Sephardic merchants
and the shady international adventurers too.
Two other writers come to mind when reading this book. Laurence Durrell
evokes something of the same atmosphere in his Alexandria Quartet and Elias
Canetti grew up in a large Sephardic family in Bulgaria. That society has
completely disappeared. Without Canetti's memoirs one would not know it had ever
This is an eloquent and elegiac account of that love and absurdity
known as a family.
Aciman's family--Jews from Spain via Italy and, most recently, Turkey, who intermarry with Jews from Syria and Germany--are, in and of themselves, a microcosm of bustling, polyglot Alexandria, and what a magnificently sketched crew they all are: Swaggering Uncle Vili, acid Uncle Isaac, calculating Uncle Nessim, melancholy Aunt Flora, bankers, salesmen, auctioneers, musicians, the idle rich, billiard hall proprietors and bicycle shop owners, and, most memorably, his two grandmothers, the Saint and the Princess, who, as the back blurb informs us, "gossip in seven languages." They comprise as flamboyant and eccentric a family as one can imagine--a joy to read about, with a tale as rich a family saga as any in literature. Theirs is a world scented by the tang of the sea blowing over white-sand beaches; sprawling apartments full of objets d'art tended to by generations of Arab servants; balmy Mediterranean evenings spent on spacious balconies nibbling dips, olives, artichokes, and cheeses and sipping raki, and hobnobbing with the city's European elite, whom they simultaneously despise and try desperately to emulate.
But that world begins to die in the book's second part, which begins with the chapter entitled "Taffi Al-Nur," (Arabic for "Turn off the lights"): not merely what was screamed in the streets during air-raids, but an apt description of what happened to Egypt under Nasser's Nationalist government, which, slowly at first, but then more and more quickly, chased out all the foreigners that gave Alexandria its cosmopolitan character. Once again, Aciman's family serves as a metaphor for the city as, one by one, they either die off or leave their home for points north and west: Italy, France, England, the United States.
It's too trite and cliched to call "Out of Egypt" an evocation of a vanished world. It's a love song, a paean, to the kind of world that both produced, and allowed to flourish, Aciman's family. Their like will not again be seen, because the world that created them is no more. And even if it's gone forever, the fact that it was captured by as skillful a chronicler as Aciman is reason to celebrate.