OUT OF EGYPT by Andre Aciman


A Memoir
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 Aciman (French Literature/Princeton) delivers a clear- eyed eulogy of a lost past and a family in decline. Aciman's Jewish-Turkish-Italian family came to Alexandria, Egypt, in 1905, long before young AndrÇ was born. There they lived in highly leveraged splendor as Aciman's great-aunts and -uncles--particularly Great-uncle Vili, the flamboyant youngest brother--made and lost fortunes, despised the Arab natives, and survived two world wars. The family rose to, and fell from, the heights of government and European-Egyptian society, and by the late 1960s the entire clan had either died, emigrated, or been expelled from their adoptive home. Aciman begins his memoir in the recent past, with a visit to Great-uncle Vili, the first of the family to emigrate. The octogenarian had achieved his goal of becoming a genteel--and gentile-- Englishman: Because of his service to the British during WW II--all the while remaining faithful to Italian Fascism--he was granted a country estate in Surrey, where he lived out his life as Dr. H.M. Spingarn. Vili's sister Esther, Aciman's grandmother and one of the last to leave Egypt, was a mazmazelle, a European grande dame who dined at Alexandria's Sporting Club, fingered produce in the market, and bargained mercilessly with the local merchants. She also smuggled money out of Egypt for years before she was expelled along with her sister Elsa and Aciman and his parents. Aciman creates a romantic portrait of a bygone time without idealizing his colorful ancestors. Much of their interest is, in fact, in their pettiness, spitefulness, and bigotry. They were simultaneously assimilated, anti-Semitic, and practicing Jews; masters of their Egyptian servants and ``Dogs of the Arabs.'' Aciman's father was an unrepentant philanderer, his deaf mother a source of shame. He himself appears mainly as observer of the group's deterioration. A skillful portrayal of an extraordinary clan.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-22833-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994


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