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Out of Egypt: A Memoir

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  628 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
Set in luxuriant cosmopolitan Alexandria, this richly colored memoir chronicles the exploits of a flamboyant Jewish family from its bold arrival in Egypt at the turn of the century to its defeated exodus three generations later. In elegant and witty prose, Andre Aciman introduces us to the Olympian figures who shaped his life: Uncle Vili, the strutting daredevil, by turns ...more
Paperback, 340 pages
Published April 1st 1996 by Riverhead Trade (first published 1980)
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Jan Rice
Unlike features of a landscape like trees and mountains, people have feet. They move to places where the opportunities are best, and they soon invite their friends and relatives to join them. This demographic mixing turns the landscape into a fractal, with minorities inside minorities inside minorities.
--Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature, p. 241

First read in 2008; given a thumbnail review in May, 2013:
Although I read this book in the past, I know the exact date for once, because in
3.5 stars.

One benefit of reading this memoir is what you learn about the climate of Egypt after the Egyptian revolution and the Suez Canal Company debacle, how it must have felt for a Jewish-European family living and doing business in Egypt. I must admit, I liked False Papers better because I love Aciman as an essayist. I probably cheated though, because False Papers is what comes after Aciman's exile from Egypt.

Andre Aciman came of age in Egypt during Nasser's pan-Arabic and anti-imperialist
Ruby Hollyberry
This book is utterly fascinating. This family of Turkish Jews speaks a form of Spanish (except the ones who speak German), tell people they are Italian, identify with France, and live in Alexandria Egypt, before leaving due to war and the same seizure of goods they suffered a generation or two earlier in Turkey. They have had many turns of fortune and fate, and the most successful family members double as spies/con artists as much as businessmen. The author is a much-loved, spoiled child of a ti ...more
يوسف زهدى
Jul 22, 2016 يوسف زهدى rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
A controversial humanitarian read, you can call it a story or a memorial (as the author did) or a partial biography of European Jewish family & community living in Alexandria - Egypt between the early years of the 20th century till the forced deportation of foreigners and Jews by Nasser regime (1900s-1960s).
Andre Aciman - family, extended family and community were rich Jews with European passports, they settled in Alexandria after moving from Turkey late in 1800s-eartly 1900s and established
Aug 05, 2009 Don rated it really liked it
André Aciman's memoir of growing up Jewish -- and speaking French -- in post-World War II Alexandria. His family had moved to that city from Constantinople in 1905, back when both cities lay within the Ottoman Empire. Aciman found his native city -- along with his family -- to be a treasure chest of strange sights, quirky personalities and bizarre events. He lovingly describes each of his dysfuntional family members, relying on his own memory,the memories of others, and stories and documentation ...more
Lyn Elliott
An appealing memoir of Aciman's Sephardic family life in Alexandria in the 1950s and 60s, from his earliest childhood until the time the family was forced to leave Egypt when he was 15.
His grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and wider circles of family and friends are sketched with perceptive wit and affection as the violent events of the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath swirl around them.
Loved it.
Jim Leffert
Oct 13, 2014 Jim Leffert rated it it was amazing
It’s a beautifully written, intimate memoir about growing up in a Jewish family of Sephardic heritage in Alexandria, Egypt. We learn about the family’s experiences from World War II, before Andre Aciman was born, until 1965, when Andre was 15 and the family was forced to leave Egypt. Andre’s extended family were nominally Italian citizens but had been living in Constantinople. In 1908, Andre’s great uncle encouraged the entire family to go to Egypt to seek economic opportunities, since the great ...more
Andrew Rosner
A beautifully written memoir, particularly relevant and poignant given recent events in the Middle East.

Lawrence Durrell wrote in his Alexandria Quartet that Alexandria was shared by "five races, five languages, a dozen creeds: five fleets turning through their greasy reflections behind the harbor bar. But there are more than five sexes." But as Paul Theroux wrote in his travelogue of the Mediterranean (The Pillars of Hercules), "Alexandria is [now] a monoglot city of one race, Arabic-speaking A
Nov 28, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I really enjoyed this memoir by Andre Aciman, whose Sephardic Jewish family lived in Egypt for 50 years, yet never considered themselves Egyptian and were never able to become Egyptian citizens. They were originally from Spain, were part of the Medieval diaspora, migrated to Constantinople, then migrated to Alexandria in 1905 where they owned businesses and lived every day life using a mixture of French, Ladino, Italian, Turkish and Greek (aside from Aciman himself, they never learned Arabic). T ...more
Sep 06, 2011 Trina rated it it was amazing
This memoir introduced me to a place, time and culture I found fascinating: an extended family of wealthy Sephardic Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. Aciman was a teenager when he left Alexandria, which was the fate of all or most of the Jews doing private business in Egypt in the 60s. They had come from elsewhere post World War 2 to British-ruled Egypt-- Constantinople (sic), Smyrna (sic), Italy, France, Greece, Syria. Aciman's great-grandmother and great-grandfather had 9 children, and they were all ...more
Jan 01, 2009 Billy rated it really liked it
I'm not sure why these Mediterranean Jews in "Out of Egypt" seem so familiar. Surely, the narrator and his family could not be more different than me or my family. Or maybe there is something that ties us together, something beyond, but not completely beyond, the Syrian shul that my grandmother attended in Brooklyn. And how could our secure life in America be compared to their perilous situation in Egypt? My feelings about New York are mirrored in the young Andre's ties to his Alexandria. While ...more
Aug 05, 2009 Mmars rated it liked it
Because Aciman's extended family, and not himself, seemed his primary focus it is unfortunate that who was who was so unclear. It think his intention was to present the Jewish experience in and expulsion from Alexandria in the 1900s. However, his family was his focus, and I was unable to get comfortable with the characters and therefore unable to enjoy the stories. His mother was quite clear to me, but the "nicknamed" grandmothers and various others were muddled and became a roadblock for me. Th ...more
L. Donovan
Nov 12, 2012 L. Donovan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
As a memoir, it's superb. Aciman expertly entwines the multiplicity of cultures, languages, and customes with which he grew up. He does play a bit fast and loose with time frames and ages, so the large cast of family can become confusing. All in all, it was worth the read, but it won't go on my to be re-read shelf.
actual rating: 3,5
Jan 16, 2013 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written: a real gem of a memoir. Aciman paints a beautiful picture of an Alexandria long gone.
Mar 22, 2017 Simona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Che quanti si godevano la prima passeggiata non avrebbero mai saputo, mai nemmeno immaginato, chee quella era la nostra ultima notte ad Alessandria".

Il mio approccio con Aciman comincia con questo romanzo che, per quanto sia affascinante, è molto disordinato e poco lineare.
"Ultima notte ad Alessandria" è un memoir, una sorta di diario anche se non ha la struttura di questo genere. E' un memoir in cui lo stesso Aciman racconta la storia della sua famiglia costretta a lasciare Alessandria D'Egitt
Jun 02, 2016 Denis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have never been to Alexandria, Egypt, but reading Durrell’s Justine made me feel like I suddenly knew it (or at least knew Alexandria as it was in the past), and when I reached the last page of the novel, I immediately longed to revisit the fabled city again. By chance, Out of Egypt, which entirely takes place in Alexandria, was waiting for me on my shelves. I didn’t think twice, and that very night I opened the book, which I had purchased years ago. I knew André Aciman to be an elegant and el ...more
Kathleen Hulser
Oct 31, 2015 Kathleen Hulser rated it really liked it
His elders lounge about always ready to "resume conversations filled invariably with gossip, tears, venom , and self-pity." In Aciman's recollections of childhood in Alexandria, the adults are always absurd and incomprehensible, the beach leads to sparkling seas and the servants whisk plates of fruit, figs and cakes silently into salons jammed with relatives. This is the most marvelous memoir, of a time when Jews not so long migrated from Constantinople lead a luxurious life amidst a motley blen ...more
Apr 23, 2008 kasia rated it really liked it
This book is considered a classic in exile autobiography, and I think deservedly so. The writing is lovely, bathed in a gentle nostalgia and longing but lacking the kind of bitterness one often finds in such works. You don't really get a coherent narrative, more like a cast of characters, and even they are seen somewhat obliquely. But they're a lively, intriguing bunch, with their ethnic and class differences and continuous squabbles. His deaf mother is an especially fascinating character, schem ...more
Feb 23, 2011 Corey rated it really liked it
I loved this dizzying account of a cosmopolitan Egyptian Jewish family. In many ways this was the quintessential story of the modern Jewish experience, easily recognizable in my own and most other Jewish families that I know – a family dispersed across the globe, speaking an array of languages, simultaneously snootishly clanny in respect to their neighbors and self-loathing in respect to themselves, peddling goods and raising a generation of doctors and lawyers.

A couple vignettes that stuck wit
Rasha Yousif
Jul 21, 2014 Rasha Yousif rated it it was amazing
I started reading the book to get to know how Alexandria was like at its prime years. I was amazed by how modern life was back then. The story describes how the aristocrat foreign community lived so lavishly even if they didn’t have the money they had to have the servants, drivers and beach houses. Though I was impressed by the cosmopolitan society I was shocked how they hated and looked down at Arabs and anything related to Arabs! The first few chapters were slow up until the story got real whe ...more
E. Ce Miller
Mar 12, 2013 E. Ce Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Jews lose everything at least twice in their lives,” prescribes Aunt Flora, a German refugee and one of the many compelling and eccentric characters who rule in André Aciman’s memoir “Out of Egypt”. This warning prove true as Aciman’s family—Jewish, with Italian heritage, Turkish roots and Egyptian residency—first leave Turkey for Egypt, and are then exiled from Egypt, returning to Europe and then Aciman himself, finally, to the United States.

Although this text is overflowing with richly descr
Mar 20, 2014 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any literate book club looking for substance
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Lots and lots of people
What a gorgeous read this memoir was. Aciman describes character and place and builds narrative with equal adeptness. When describing a setting or incident he weaves in color, sound, texture and smell without drawing attention to his artistry. The reader is invited into multi-dimensional dimensional world. The title, "Out of Egypt" evokes the Hebrew phrase of the same meaning, "mi Mitzrayim", a very familiar phrase found in many prayers and texts. It is the leitmotif of the memoir documenting th ...more
Aug 03, 2013 anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There seems to be a whole genre of Jewish literature, memoirs by people forced to leave their adopted homeland. If I could teach such a class I'd teach this memoir along side Farewell Babylon, Tales of Love and Darkness, No Exilio, and the fictional but seemingly auto-biographical Young Turk (I wonder what other ones are out there similar in nature to this.) Aciman paints a nostalgic portrait of a large family of Sephardic Jews who had immigrated to Egypt from Turkey. The men are businessmen, sw ...more
Sally Boots
Aug 26, 2011 Sally Boots rated it really liked it
Out of Egypt is André Aciman’s memoir of life with his colorful, annoying, endearing, 6-degrees-of-diaspora family. I loved the buoyancy of Aciman’s memory; it’s a vision that puts normally grim topics such as squabbling aunts, bullying teachers, cheating fathers, impending wars and anti-semitic governments in the background and revels in multi-generational, multi-cultural family life and the richness of pre-Nasser Alexandria--a place where everyone, it seems, speaks multiple languages and pigeo ...more
Mar 30, 2013 Gina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, memoir
This beautifully written memoir is one of my favourite books. It introduced me to a world I knew nothing about, that of the Sephardic jews in exile, thrown out of Spain by the 15th century catholic inquisition and scattered around the mediterranean, this family settled in Egypt and became a community within and apart from their new homeland. The story of a young boy growing up in Alexandria in a family speaking arabic, french, italian and their own old ladino. It is a picture of a middle east wh ...more
Brenda EVHS Perez
Feb 06, 2015 Brenda EVHS Perez rated it it was ok
The book out of Egypt is about the life of André Aciman with his family in Egypt. This book is a good book because it tells us about his life as a kid and as he grows up. Throughout the book,we are told of the family and worldwide problems that are faced. It's intersting to see how a family in Egypt has the same family problems that a family here would have. From this book we learn that no matter where your family is in the world, families still have family problems. Which means that if your fam ...more
Apr 05, 2013 Thabet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hauntingly beautiful portray of Alexandria in the early 1900's. I was surprised to learn that many of the foreigners driven out of Egypt by Nasser's regime didn't see themselves as Egyptians but rather citizens of another country, who just living in Egypt because of the the opportunities. At one point an elderly Jewish lady in the novel refuses to allow an Egyptian policeman to enter the apartment proclaiming: I am a German citizen.

Strange how similar the stories told in the novel about summers
Aug 28, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it
A beautifully evocative description of his childhood in Alexandria that centered around the personalities of the people around him -- family, servants, street vendors. He captured the confusions he felt as a child about the impact of being displaced Jews (from Turkey) in a society that was "nationalizing" the assets of Jews and failing his Arabic class that maligned Jews. Yet, the poignancy is that they loved their home and life in Egypt, not wanting to leave, but accepting that exile happened t ...more
Dec 12, 2007 Joanne rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
I don't usually enjoy memoirs; I find them self-indulgent with boring passages prompting me to skim. This book however is beautifully written and I found myself lingering over his prose and imagining the beautiful Alexandrian seaside. Two pages into the book I discovered the literary quality of the writing and wanted to know more about the author, Andre Aciman. He teaches at Bard which helps explain his flights of imagination and command of language. You will enjoy meeting this unusual family as ...more
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André Aciman was born in Alexandria, Egypt and is an American memoirist, essayist, novelist, and scholar of seventeenth-century literature. He has also written many essays and reviews on Marcel Proust. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Condé Nast Traveler as well as in many volumes of The Best American Ess ...more
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