Carasso, in her memoir, describes her extended Jewish family’s life in Alexandria, Egypt, and how they were compelled to leave.
In 1956, when Carasso was 10 years old, her world shattered when Nasser’s government interned her father. “Don’t worry,” her father said. “We are Egyptians.” Not to the new regime. Carasso’s father was released, but his business was taken away, and there was eventually a family diaspora. Delayed by Carasso’s grandmother’s refusal to leave Alexandria, her family didn’t emigrate until 1961. Her father never saw the same success in business again, but Carasso went on to earn a Ph.D. in French literature at Yale University. Her goal, she writes, is to tell her family’s story in the context of the Jews’ long history of exile and resettlement. She also aims to give readers a better understanding of Egyptian politics and history from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th. Carasso affectingly describes her comfortable, carefree, family-centered childhood in cosmopolitan, multilingual Alexandria, full of fencing lessons, movies, books, beach trips and family dinner at Nonna’s, and how wrenching it was to lose all that. She paints vivid portraits of her parents, grandparents, cousins, servants and friends. Her hardworking shipping-agent father, for example, beguiles his young daughter by discussing the fine points of cargo vessels: “[H]e would draw pictures of ships for me, detailing winches as well as describing how the newly introduced McGregor hatchcovers worked.” All of this comes to life, although Carasso’s perspective is necessarily limited by her youth and fading memories. Readers see more of Alexandria’s sweet shops and movie theaters than its more sophisticated offerings, and Carasso often must guess or make assumptions to fill the gaps in her story. At times, Carasso is overly casual—“Egypt basically went to sleep for several centuries after the Turkish conquest”—but she does provide footnotes, a bibliography and family tree.
Well-drawn portraits of a childhood from a lost world, the sorrows of exile and the resilience of a people.