Magazine article Tikkun

The Key of Loss

Magazine article Tikkun

The Key of Loss

Article excerpt

False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory, by Andre Aciman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. I desperately wanted to like this new collection of essays and three "tales" by the author of Out of Egypt (1994). Many of these pieces appeared earlier in places such as Conde Nast Traveler, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books; some were even chosen for inclusion in the Best American Essays anthology. I eagerly anticipated the conjuring up of a cosmopolitan Mediterranean Jewish world and mindset. Indeed, the depictions of life in Alexandria leading up to the final flight of the Jews in the 1960s, the difficult unfamiliarity of subsequent childhood years in working-class Rome, and the first heady trip to Paris do not disappoint. Literature-inspired cogitations, often wonderful, bejewel the narrative's temporal twists and turns.

The power of any of these essays read individually might be inspiring, but when read together, their effectiveness diminishes noticeably. Aciman's writing favors one modality, "the key of loss," which comes across in too many repetitive, mannered, saccharine, even cloying, passages. The biggest problem with autobiographical essays such as these is precisely the self-prominence of the author and the amount of hubris involved in plastering everywhere the author's opinions, reminiscences, conclusions, epiphanies, whims, delusions, self-delusions, willful toy-with-yourself self-delusions, nostalgia, faux nostalgia, and anticipatory nostalgia (an incomplete list).

Additionally, something annoyingly bourgeois surfaces too often for comfort: the distaste and repulsion felt by this elite, worldly exile for the lower classes and anything which lacks proper civility. In a New York City park he seeks "a secluded shaded bench away from the drunks." Propositioned on a dark street by a young Parisian woman, Aciman "shrank back, as one does with a beggar who has come too close and to whom one hands a coin without touching hands." His forcibly-- removed native city of Alexandria, to which Aciman frequently returns in thought and finally once in person, disappoints him terribly because it has now become so, well, Egyptian, without the Jews and Europeans who had made it so, well, classy and European. …

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