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Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  160 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Celebrated as one of the most poignant stylists of his generation, André Aciman has written a luminous series of linked essays about time, place, identity, and art that show him at his very finest.From beautiful and moving pieces about the memory evoked by the scent of lavender; to meditations on cities like Barcelona, Rome, Paris, and New York; to his sheer ability to un
ebook, 208 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2011)
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Oh, I can't. I'm so sorry, Mr. Aciman, but I just cannot sit with you right now. Your world is not mine, and you make absolutely no effort to welcome me to it. You must understand that I want nothing more than do let you guide me, but you don't want to do that. You want to tell me about how pleased you are that you are in this world, and you are not interested in relating to anyone who is not already inside it. Aside from the first essay about lavender (in which I found something true enough to ...more
from Intimacy:

I was after something intimate and I learned to spot it in the first alley, in the first verse of a poem, on the first glance of a stranger. Great books, like great cities, always let us find things we think are only in us and couldn’t possibly belong elsewhere but that turn out to be broadcast everywhere we look. Great artists are those who give us what we think was already ours.

In the words of Emanuele Tesauro: “We enjoy seeing our own thoughts blossom in someone’s mind, while
Jennifer Bernstein
On Monet:

He is not even sure he’s not making it up. Which is also why he needs to paint it … What he was after hangs between the visible and the invisible, between the here and now and the seemingly elsewhere.

This is Aciman’s project, his compulsion: to make material these wisps of feelings, impressions, the space between places and things.

Alibis is fundamentally a book about longing infinitely displaced—longing for lives not lived, past lovers, abandoned cities—with the recurrent suggestion th
Trigger Warnings: Mention of Anti-semitism and racism

I received Alibis as a part of Book Riot's Quarterly Subscription Box celebrating travel.

Alibis is a series of essays about Aciman's take on travel: why we do it, how we do it, and his personal experiences with it. Travel can occur via time - step into Rome's Coliseum for example and you can see the crowds of spectators as a naval battle commences in the center. It can occur by location. It can occur through delusion: Aciman creates and recrea
Jul 18, 2012 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The flap copy of Alibis describes it as "a series of linked essays about time, place, identity and art," which probably sums it up more succinctly than I could. Aciman writes beautifully about places, about cities. He writes about Venice, about Paris, about Tuscany, about Barcelona. He writes about Rome, where he lived for three years as a teenager - he and his parents were refugees from Alexandria, waiting for their visas to America. He writes about New York, where he lives now. But he's not on ...more
Jan 31, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, memoir
In his novel Eight White Nights, Andre Aciman's narrator says, "...longing makes us who we are, makes us better than who we are, because longing fills the heart. ... The way absence and sorrow and mourning fill the heart." In the same way, the highly personal essays in Alibis explore the world of the author's memory: "It is not the things we long for that we love; it is longing itself--just as it is not what we remember but remembrance itself that we love." In the essays of Alibis the author rem ...more
Hmmm... usually I really like this kind of thing -- long meandering sentences, self-conscious, hyper-aware speaker. He even does that thing that I love (and tend to imitate): obviously it's this, but no it's not: it's the complete opposite. But this time? I just didn't find him that, well, welcoming. True, there are some luminous moments -- some of the writing on refugees, the short piece Self Storage, but the rest of the time I had to force myself through this. Also, some of the language descri ...more
E. Ce Miller
Jan 03, 2015 E. Ce Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing book to start my 2015 Reading Challenge. I have been a longtime fan of author André Aciman, but in my opinion this is by far his finest work.

Most of the pieces in this collection are travel essays, taking readers to Paris and New York, Alexandria and Rome and Tuscany and Barcelona and on. Aciman explores these places with such careful intimacy--readers are not just walking alongside Aciman down the streets of Paris or Tuscany, they are closely observing the pattern of cracks
Jose Moran
Jul 29, 2014 Jose Moran rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a love-hate relationship with this book. When my boyfriend chose this book for our book club, I felt like I recognized the name ‘Andre Aciman,’ and felt like it was the right choice for us. The cover it beautiful and incited a fascination on what this book was going to be about. ‘Essays on Elsewhere’ sounds like a book about travel and reflection, which made me really excited to read. The first essay was beautifully written. It’s about how a smell of his father’s cologne drove Aciman to f ...more
Oct 02, 2012 Bert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Ik ben ergens anders. (...) Sommige mensen hebben een identiteit. Ik heb een alibi, een schaduw-ik." (p.225)

'Ik schrijf over plaatsen, of de herinnering aan plaatsen. Ik schrijf over een stad die Alexandrië heet en die me na aan het hart moet hebben gelegen, en over andere steden die me doen denken aan een verdwenen wereld waarnaar ik kennelijk wil terugkeren. Ik schrijf over ballingschap, herinneren en het verstrijken van de tijd. Ik schrijf naar het schijnt om het verleden op te roepen, in st
Vera Marie
Jan 30, 2013 Vera Marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
André Aciman travels with a very different mindset than you and I. We are going away from our home to a different place. He agrees with T.S. Eliot, who said, “The end is where we start from.”

A journey, he says, always is FROM somewhere. But in his case, home is elsewhere in time. Since it is difficult to pin down where he comes from–anywhere he goes is also elsewhere. His essays play with the idea of memory of place, trying to recover the past, fiction that sneaks into memoir, and the time-bend
Apr 21, 2013 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(FROM MY BLOG) It's spring, and my neighborhood is full of flowers. I breathe in the smell with a smile as I walk or run down the sidewalk. Once in a while, rounding a corner, I suddenly catch a faint scent of daphne.

Daphne. The slightest whiff, and I'm thrown back to the age of 13, possibly 12. We had moved to a new house. In the basement was a storage room we called the "fruit room," with a screened vent to the outside. Outside the vent was a bush of daphne, whose scent filled the basement. Th
Feb 08, 2013 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ann by: Jane
"...the most beautiful city on earth, just as it is the most serene. Not only is the weather and everything around us serene, but we ourselves become serene. Serenity is the feeling of being one with the world, of having nothing to wish for, of lacking for nothing. Of being, as almost never happens elsewhere, entirely in the present."

"He (his son) liked rituals. I liked rehearsing. Rituals are when we wish to repeat what has already happened, rehearsals when we repeat what we fear mig
Apr 21, 2016 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of these essays I loved, some of my favorites ever--"My Monet Moment", "Self Storage", and "Empty Rooms" I feel will stay with me a long time. Others were too much rhapsodizing about glamorous places I wish I could visit and I skipped through a few pages in. I sure wish I could write like Mr. Aciman, though, even so.
Claudia f. Savage
Mar 30, 2014 Claudia f. Savage rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aciman is a pompous, overly verbose, dandy. He definitely would have gotten beat up at my grade school. He writes like Proust. He worships Proust and cologne and Mozart. But, every once in a while you get a sentence that is so good you think that he may be the smartest, most introspective writer ever to exist. I dogearred the crap out of this book, as much as I put it down annoyed. He is self-referential and obnoxious. He is also brilliant and deep. I might have to read all his books to fully ma ...more
Jan 23, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Featherbooks, Micky Ryan
Aciman as usual has mastered the art of writing from memory, of exile, of displacement, of the feeling of having an alibi, a desire to be elsewhere. His writing is exact and the psychology of "elsewhereness" (my term) that he investigates hits close to home. Not a day goes by that something reminds me of somewhere else I've been or want to go and I feel a longing for that place. Aciman talks about experiencing where you are through the longing of wanting to be somewhere else. Just read the book, ...more
Feb 14, 2013 Hilary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully crafted, deeply thought and intensely personal essays from a brilliant exponent of prose style. I found this book a little hard to get into, as a first time reader of Aciman, but once I'd become attuned to his project, I really loved these essays. I can imagine that his introspection would not be to everyone's taste though. This is my full review on Vulpes Libris:
Apr 19, 2016 Carly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
This was a really rough read for me.

Memoirs aren't really my thing, which includes this one.

Maybe it'd be your thing...
Mar 28, 2012 Poupeh rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The "afterword" was the best part i think. Even though i still enjoyed Aciman's language and his interest in the subjects of nostalgia, home, and traveling, i kept thinking, "so what? why do i need to read about this mundane experiences?" and it seems like he is repeating the same thing over and over again, as if he "has" to write about it. The afterword seems however more in line with his earlier works, engaging the reader more.
Oct 10, 2013 Jasmine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alibis is a thought provoking collection of essays that I have written about in my personal journals many times even though I only finished it less-than a year ago. This work is an intense morphing cascade of self reflection and redefinition across and through time. I read certain selections from this work quite often. "The Contrafactual Traveler" "Lavender" are two that I return to time and time again.
Haley Montgomery
Jun 18, 2013 Haley Montgomery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first chapter -- "Lavender" was one of the most beautifully entwined pieces on memory and the senses and how we view our own history that I have read. This is not a casual book. It's a read for thinking, not skimming, so there were some lulls in the process. His view of things can also be frustratingly abstract and non-committal at times. But, overall, a good read and beautifully written.
Kevin Hoag
Oct 13, 2012 Kevin Hoag rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Several of the essays were excellent, and there were some very thought-provoking ideas. The last couple of essays helped me to better understand his perspective (as an emigre, struggling to find home in the world), and it would have been helpful to me to read those first. Among my favorites were Rue Delta (which I would have liked to read first), and Reflections of An Uncertain Jew.
Alfredo Pizarro
Apr 16, 2013 Alfredo Pizarro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Aciman is hypnotic, cosmopolitan, lyric. Take equal parts Cunninghan, Durrell, Kavafis and Proust, mix and let simmer languorously. Consume preferibly at dusk with Debussy or Satie soft in the background. Then give yourself in, travel.
Dec 26, 2011 DoctorM rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, memoirs
Lovely essays about the realms of memory and loss, about the scent of lavender aftershave and the lost sounds of a vanished neighbourhood in Rome. Classic Aciman: quiet, intelligence, touched with melancholy. Very much worth reading.
Feb 05, 2013 Tobias rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2013
I'll be honest -- I was very lukewarm on some of these essays. But the best of them are fantastic -- whether Aciman's wandering through European cities of musing on questions of assimilation.
Apr 27, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved "My Monet Moment" and appreciate Aciman's willingness to deeply examine his weaknesses and be true with the reader. Not done yet but well worth reading!
Nov 05, 2011 Roxanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
While the writing was occasionally cumbersome, I loved Andre Aciman's insights on home, wandering, memory, and our attachments to (or detachments from) places.
Michael Caylo-Baradi
The last part is an aria. We can't be without our alibis. In many ways, they make us multidimensional.
Yusuf Nasrullah
Oct 27, 2011 Yusuf Nasrullah rated it really liked it
Such delectable prose and such a devil of romantic philosophizing. I love this writer!
David Clark
Feb 06, 2013 David Clark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, essay, travel
A stylistic gem and model for essay construction.
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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
More about André Aciman...

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“Every walk carves out a new city. And each of these tiny cities has its main square, a downtown area all its own, its own memorial statue, its own landmarks, laundromats, bus terminal—in short, its own focal point (from the Latin word focus, meaning fireplace, hearth, foyer, home), warm spot, sweet spot, soft spot, hot spot.” 2 likes
“New York may end up being no more than a scrim, a spectral film that is none other than our craving for romance—romance with life, with masonry, with memory, sometimes romance with nothing at all. This longing goes out to the city and from the city comes back to us. Call it narcissism. Or call it passion. It has its flare-ups, its cold nights, its sudden lurches, and its embraces. It is our life finally revealed to us in the most lifeless hard objects we'll ever cast eyes on: concrete, steel, stonework. Our need for intimacy and love is so powerful that we'll look for them and find them in asphalt and soot.” 2 likes
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