A lyrical and literary memoir of an unusual Sephardic Jewish family. The Alhadeffs made and lost more than one fortune in the Italian Jewish communities in Rhodes and Alexandria well before Gini was born, by which time her branch of the family was both Catholic and solidly middle class. In fact, Alhadeff didn't even realize she was from illustrious Jewish ancestry until she was 22 and living in New York City: Someone asked her if she was a Sephardic Jew. ``No,'' she said, then, ``I don't know,'' and finally, ``Yes, maybe.'' Suddenly, all the signs that she'd noticed throughout her convent-school upbringing became clear. She goes over them here, commenting on her multilingual relatives (who have taken up, discarded, and then retrieved a number of religions) with insight and an uncanny knack for detail. Her mother's family, the Tilches, are seen in the full pride and pathos of their fallen glory. Although they can trace their ancestry in Egypt back to the 16th century and were once wealthy cotton merchants, they are now forced to live on the kindness of inferior relations. Nelly Tilche, Alhadeff's great-aunt, stays with Alhadeff's family and justifies her place with them by leading a crusade against missing and frayed underwear, searching, darning, and even speaking up for ``the disappeared.'' Alhadeff's cousin Pierre is a poor priest who drops the names of the rich and famous and lives the life of a celibate playboy. Alhadeff injects a more somber note, however, in the story of her uncle Nissim, who was captured in Rome during WW II and sent to Auschwitz. Told in Nissim's voice, this long passage is stark and moving. Alhadeff tackles complex relationships with humor and wisdom; listening to her reminiscences is an entertaining, frequently surprising, and moving experience.
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