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- Publié sur Amazon.com
From the very first sentence, Andre Aciman's "Out of Egypt" sucks the reader into the maelstrom of personalities that made up his family--and, more broadly, the city that gave them rise: the whirlwind of peoples, languages, creeds, and nationalities that made up old Alexandria, once the most cosmopolitan city on the Mediterranean.
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.