Alexan­dri­an Summer

Yitzhak Gormezano Goren; Yardenne Greenspan, trans.

  • Review
By – August 5, 2015

Eng­lish read­ers final­ly have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cov­er for them­selves just why award-win­ning nov­el­ist and play­wright Yitzhak Gormezano Goren’s Alexan­dri­an Sum­mer received such strong crit­i­cal acclaim when it was first pub­lished in Israel in 1978. For any­one who has ever won­dered why Alexan­dria arous­es such fierce nos­tal­gia among the tens of thou­sands who emi­grat­ed in the years fol­low­ing Israel’s estab­lish­ment, this short yet expan­sive nov­el offers an indeli­ble answer. While its rich­ly descrip­tive lan­guage is often as appeal­ing­ly breezy and insou­ciant as the sea­side prom­e­nades where much of its action takes place, the nov­el ulti­mate­ly takes us deep into the sor­rows and pas­sions, past and present, of two Jew­ish fam­i­lies just pri­or to the mil­i­tary coup that top­pled King Farouk in 1952.

The sto­ry is anchored by the view­point of Rob­by, the youngest son of the fam­i­ly that hosts the vaca­tion­ing Ham­di-Ali fam­i­ly. Goren is adept in depict­ing all of his strong­ly-sketched char­ac­ters’ inner lives and excels in cap­tur­ing young loves, erot­ic attrac­tions, and trag­ic entan­gle­ments in this hedo­nis­tic and sen­su­al world. But the most pow­er­ful of the entranc­ing sub­plots con­cerns that of the Alexan­dri­an mania for the race­track and Goren makes us feel that excite­ment but also the over­heat­ed excite­ment of the crowd, its fick­le propen­si­ty for turn­ing into a dan­ger­ous mob. Though decid­ed­ly resis­tant to sen­ti­men­tal nos­tal­gia, Goren pro­vides many moments so pal­pa­bly appeal­ing (he can make us smell the rich inte­ri­ors of home as nim­bly as he does the salty air waft­ing from the sea at the prom­e­nade) that read­ers will often feel thor­ough­ly seduced by his birthplace’s van­ished charms

Com­pact as it is, Alexan­dri­an Sum­mer goes far in deliv­er­ing that mul­ti-every­thing” to us in unfor­get­table lan­guage that lingers long after the final page. Through­out this riv­et­ing fam­i­ly dra­ma, Goren often paus­es to cap­ture Alexandria’s sin­gu­lar ambiance: though decid­ed­ly resis­tant to sen­ti­men­tal nos­tal­gia, Goren pro­vides many moments so pal­pa­bly appeal­ing that read­ers will often feel thor­ough­ly seduced by its van­ished charms: A pleas­ant breeze blew from the sea. The tumult of bathers sound­ed from afar: Mus­lims, Chris­tians and Jews des­e­crat­ing the Sab­bath. On the street, cars honked hys­ter­i­cal­ly. The entire city rum­bled and roared; nev­er­the­less a Sab­bath seren­i­ty was felt all around.” Only the most hard­ened read­er would not wish to linger in this place, would not ache over its trag­ic and abrupt end­ing, no mat­ter how inevitable it might seem from the per­spec­tive of today’s end­less violence.

Ranen Omer-Sher­man is the JHFE Endowed Chair in Juda­ic Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Louisville and edi­tor of the forth­com­ing book Amos Oz: The Lega­cy of a Writer in Israel and Beyond.

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