cover image Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere

Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere

Andr%C3%A9 Aciman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-10275-3

This lambent collection of essays%E2%80%94many of which appeared in slightly altered form in literary magazines%E2%80%94by the author of the memoir Out of Egypt is a reminiscence. Bound by the Latin derivation of the title (meaning "elsewhere"), each essay is an exercise in nostalgia. In the hands of an artist like Aciman, nostalgia is not so much a self-indulgence as it is a revelation on the mysterious passage of time, on memory as the alchemical measure of truth. Aciman, a Jew of Alexandria whose native tongue is French, chronicles how he has never been able to feel at home, shamed by the uncertainties of youthful displacement and assimilation; his family's history of exile in Italy likewise feeds into Aciman's writing. The best pieces in this uneven collection rhapsodize on Cambridge, Mass., with its chemist-shop scent of lavender; on the timeless palimpsest of cultures that is the Eternal City; on life in Venice; on the tragic Jewish past of Barcelona; and the "derivative city"%E2%80%94New York%E2%80%94that is now home. These pieces drill into the brain. (Oct. 4)