Out of Egypt: A Memoir

( 5 )


This richly colored memoir chronicles the exploits of a flamboyant Jewish family, from its bold arrival in cosmopolitan Alexandria to its defeated exodus three generations later. In elegant and witty prose, André Aciman introduces us to the marvelous eccentrics who shaped his life--Uncle Vili, the strutting daredevil, soldier, salesman, and spy; the two grandmothers, the Princess and the Saint, who gossip in six languages; Aunt Flora, the German refugee who warns that Jews lose everything "at least twice in their...

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Out of Egypt: A Memoir

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This richly colored memoir chronicles the exploits of a flamboyant Jewish family, from its bold arrival in cosmopolitan Alexandria to its defeated exodus three generations later. In elegant and witty prose, André Aciman introduces us to the marvelous eccentrics who shaped his life--Uncle Vili, the strutting daredevil, soldier, salesman, and spy; the two grandmothers, the Princess and the Saint, who gossip in six languages; Aunt Flora, the German refugee who warns that Jews lose everything "at least twice in their lives." And through it all, we come to know a boy who, even as he longs for a wider world, does not want to be led, forever, out of Egypt.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"It is Mr. Aciman's great achievement that he has re-created a world gone forever now, and given us an ironical and affectionate portrait of those who were exiled from it."--The New York Times Book Review

"Aciman may have gone out of Egypt but, as this evocative and imaginative book makes plain, he has never left it, nor it him."--The Washington Post

"With beguiling simplicity, Aciman recalls the life of Alexandria as [his family] knew it, and the seductiveness of that beautiful, polyglot city permeates his book."--The New Yorker

"Beautifully remembered and even more beautifully written."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The past recaptured in [Aciman's] elegant memoir is full of cucumber lotion and Schubert melodies, Parmesan cheese and the chatter of backgammon chips--all the smells and sounds of Alexandria that he knew before [leaving]."--The New Republic

"To find Alexandria in these pages, all rosy and clear-eyed from the tonic of Aciman's telling, is the greatest imaginable gift."--James Merrill

"An extraordinary memoir of an eccentric family, a fascinating milieu, and a complex cosmopolitan culture. This beautifully written book combines the sensuousness of Lawrence Durrell, the magic of Garcia Marquez, and the realism of intimate observation. A rich portrait of a surprising and now-vanished world."--Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation

Jewish Book World
What makes this memoir so memorable in itself is the quiet, immensely civilized irony that plays over its surface.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When Aciman, born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, was asked his nationality as a boy, he automatically replied, ``French.'' His confusion was understandable; his family were Sephardic Jews who had wandered from Italy to Turkey, then settled in Egypt. His father owned a woolen mill and his parents were very rich, as were the rest of the exotic clan who lived with them or gathered regularly for elegant, memorable teas, fetes and fierce but transient squabbling. Like Russian nobility of old, they disdained the common language. Few of them learned Arabic but preferred French, English, Ladino or Italian. They concealed their Jewishness when Nasser was in power, a time of high Arab nationalism, intense anti-Semitism and then war. Eventually they fled to Paris, leaving behind much of their wealth but little of their culture, which Aciman-his mother's darling, his teachers' despair, his father's worry, a child spy in a house of eccentric, cultivated adults-here recalls with a magical sensibility streaked with antic humor. A marvelous memento of a place, time and people that have all disappeared. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Aciman presents a rich and captivating portrait of a Jewish family from cosmopolitan Alexandria, Egypt. From their arrival there at the turn of the century until their departure three generations later, the members of Aciman's clan experienced adventures and harrowing disappointments. Their stories are in many ways similar to those of other Jewish families in vanishing communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Most impressive among the siblings is Uncle Villy, who led a colorful life as a British spy, Italian fascist, and soldier. Aunt Flora, a refugee from Germany, maintains a rather pessimistic philosophy about life. With this memoir, the author in part redeems the social life, customs, and history of a community that barely exists today amid an inhospitable milieu, due to political turmoil in close and remote lands. This is not simply another nostalgic account but a well-written and touching depiction of life in a community that has almost ceased to be. Highly recommended for most collections.-Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312426552
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 1/23/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 381,678
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.21 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Andre Aciman

André Aciman is the author of False Papers and Call Me by Your Name. He teaches comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center and lives in Manhattan with his family.

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Table of Contents

Soldier, Salesman, Swindler, Spy     3
Rue Memphis     43
A Centennial Ball     95
Taffi Al-Nur!     153
The Lotus-Eaters     217
The Last Seder     295
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 30, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    .......a quest for survival......,

    I read these memoirs with strict concentration on all features of the environment that provided the interesting material to this book. <BR/><BR/>From childhood of elderly relatives that was somewhat unhappy and bordering on deprivation, the family living off charity, in areas where the primary social groups' life revealed a pattern of neglect, moral degradation, and disregard for law. <BR/><BR/>I watched a collection of things making people of the same feather sharing a common attribute. Perhaps I should say that a small part of these features I lived myself (1952-56). The message Andre Aciman is giving me is also addressed to every member of a clan feeling alien in the environment in which one was found, and resisted to share. <BR/><BR/>You are taken back in time to the beginning of the twentieth century until the mid fifties. I never felt strange to uncle Vili, Aunt Clara, or Tante Lotte, like these people exist in the annals of many families' chronological account of events in any successive years. <BR/><BR/>How much true it is when one had become a success story and thus an object of intense jealousy on the part of his less fortunate confreres. One would definitely feel better off to keep ones apart from ones fellows. <BR/>Walking on tight ropes during WWII to keep balance between complete annihilation and survival is not impossible, or unethical, though the uncomplimentary remarks Uncle Vili used to make about the warring parties - about them both - in private, now remained no secret. We all tend to do the same thing when cornered; won't we? This is legitimate quest for survival amid a world run in madness, Uncle Vili appeared uncomplicated enough. <BR/><BR/>Those were the people we came to know in Egypt in the mid-fifties, their private life, their intimate charm, their gentleness, their direct and affectionate manner, their kindness and modesty which remained unchanged even at the very height of their predicaments. <BR/><BR/>We knew people like Uncle Vili, their sense of humor, coupled with caustic wit with their servants - Egyptians and/or Sudanese - that their good nature forsook them and their tongue became capable of mordant, wounding remarks. In the company of their intimate friends, they would throw off the habitual reserve they displayed on public occasions and behave like the big boy scouts which they remained in one corner of their personality - Pashas attitudes. <BR/><BR/>Andre Aciman: I salute you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2008

    Passover in slow motion

    I don't read 1000 books a year and don't attend book clubs, so my opinion is not supported by qualifications. Out of Egypt is a sweet and sour collection of portraits and memories of a world gone by, that of Egypt of the 1960's. It is a world of errand jews facing the precariousness of their condition with humour, sadness and resourcefulness. It is also a meditation on identity and how it is shaped by what may seem fickle details of early life. Last but not least, it is also very funny and will keep you company well after your will have turned the book's final page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2007

    A reviewer

    Our book club members began to read this as our October selection for discussion. After receiving complaints from several of us, our group moderator selected another book for us to read. Since I had already ordered this one, and had subsequently learned about the substitution, my interest in Out of Egypt was piqued. Sorry to say, that this is the only one of about 1,000 or more books I read a year, that I just could not read beyond a third of the way. It seems as though the author got in a rut and was replaying the activities and conversations over and over. I understand that actions can be limited and societal activity stifled by many outside and internal forces. The best I can say for this work is that the scenes are richly detailed. The writer has a keen eye for the depth and layered texture of surroundings and people. On the other hand, you should read it if you are having problems falling asleep. If anything, this will work better than any sleeping aid, including warm milk.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 24, 2013

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    Posted July 3, 2013

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