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Andr 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.
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.)
"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 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.