The Sun at Midday: Tales of a Mediterranean Family

Gini Alhadeff, Author, Gina Alhadeff, Author
Gini Alhadeff, Author, Gina Alhadeff, Author Pantheon Books $23 (272p) ISBN 978-0-679-41763-7
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These engaging portraits of Alhadeff's large, wealthy family of Sephardic Jews sometimes seem to have been snatched from free associations. Yet despite their free-floating quality, Alhadeff's humor and keen sense of place and character re-create the ambiance of her youth in exotic settings peopled with intriguing eccentrics. Her forbears migrated from Spain in the 15th century and, via stops in Italy and Turkey, settled in Egypt. In Alexandria, they established one of the country's wealthiest trading houses and were part of an elite community of Sephardim whose lifestyles imitated those of Parisian high society. For convenience's sake, her irreligious parents converted and sent their children to Catholic schools: Alhadeff was 20 before she knew she was a Jew. More confusing, although her name was Arabic and her parents spoke the language fluently, albeit with a slight accent--as they did with all five or six other languages they spoke--she never quite knew where they all belonged. Sojourns in Italy convinced her she was Italian, and no one contradicted her. The entire family were snobs; one relative's address book listed, under Q., the private phone numbers of all the queens she knew. Another, with an avocation for the priesthood, never quite relinquished his taste for the high life and cultivated rich friends who could provide him with off-duty clothes, cars and hospitality. Throughout the jumble of her recollections, Alhadeff, now a New Yorker who founded two literary magazines, Norman and XXI Century--searches with integrity and wit for a clear understanding of her own nature. (Feb.)
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