A debut memoir chronicles one man’s experiences in Egypt, including his turbulent departure.
Sardas begins his book with his youth in Ibrahimieh, a suburb of Alexandria. Ibrahimieh, the author explains, was home to many people of Greek origin and “visitors might think they were in Athens” walking its streets. The author’s “ancestors were Sephardic Jews, originally from Spain,” though during the Inquisition they immigrated to places like Turkey, where his mother was born. His father was raised in Crete and wound up meeting his wife in France. Such a mixture of nationalities permeates the volume as Sardas goes on to explain his life in Egypt until his eventual emigration. Portions of the book are full of childhood memories, such as the author’s valiant attempts to organize a basketball team at his school and his father’s views on maintaining good health. Such tales illustrate a lost time, though the main thrust of the account comes with the need to leave Egypt. Events following the Suez Crisis in the 1950s led to the expulsion of many foreigners. In addition, as the author explains, President “Nasser unleashed an avalanche of xenophobic speeches.…He ordered Jews suspected of being Zionists to be imprisoned in detention camps.” In 1957, Sardas would find himself leaving Egypt for good with his pregnant wife. He was only allowed to carry 20 Egyptian pounds, “minus 10 percent tax.” The young family would eventually build a life in Brazil, though the sting of Egypt’s goodbye would be lasting. While early sections of the account—which features an assortment of family photographs—will likely appeal only to the author’s relatives, Sardas’ painful and taxing departure from the country in which he was born is vividly rendered. How does it feel to be unwanted in your homeland? What is it like to be forced to a faraway place with very little money in your pocket and no hope of return? The book deftly answers such stirring questions in the way that only someone who was there can fully describe. The reader is made aware in a strong, sobering fashion just how fickle popular opinion and governments can be.
A striking historical account by an Egyptian Jew forced to leave his homeland.