Set in the Jewish community of Alexandria, OUT OF EGYPT is a memoir of a place and of a family. Drawing on the patchy perceptions of childhood, Aciman recreates the lost world of his growing-up. With the measured pace and skill of a Proust, he conjures up the sunlight, sounds, and smells of the ancient coastal town. The only child of a patrician Jewish family, the young Aciman nevertheless spent his childhood in the heart of a large extended family of strong-minded, resilient, and eccentric individuals. There is Uncle Vili: war hero, spy and, ultimately, English country squire; the two grandmothers, Princess and Saint; the author’s embarrassingly deaf mother; his mild- mannered Italian tutor; and a host of others. Aciman fondly appraises each one with his steady, cool and slightly skeptical gaze, relishing their dominant characteristics but never reducing them to mere caricature.
A series of pen portraits move the story on from the family’s arrival in Egypt from Turkey in the early years of the century to the point where the young Aciman’s own maturing memory takes up the story. The child’s world broadens as public events begin to impinge more urgently on his family. The second half of the narrative is driven on by the Suez crisis, the subsequent rise of Arab nationalistic confidence, and the forced dispersal of friends and relatives across Europe.
With this wonderfully evocative and sensitive account, Aciman projects the essence of the expatriate condition, the enduring nature of family life and the slow-paced, sunlit world of the cosmopolitan Mediterranean port. No less powerful is his evocation of the expatriate condition and of the beleaguered Levantine community uncertain which country to claim as home, and finally forced into further exile.