Where the Wind Blew: A Boy­hood Lost in Tangier

Michel Emile Bensadon
  • Review
By – May 7, 2014

This engag­ing mem­oir tells three dif­fer­ent stories.

On one lev­el, it’s a Jew­ish Casablan­ca”: There’s no Bog­a­rt or Bergman, but this tale, too, fea­tures a free­wheel­ing North African loca­tion, refugees flee­ing Nazis, per­ilous escapes, and, of course, romance.

It’s also an affec­tion­ate por­trait of the once-flour­ish­ing Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Tang­i­er, Moroc­co. We meet afflu­ent Sephardim who speak French, Span­ish, and the local Jew­ish mash-up dialect, Haque­tia. The women are com­mand­ing house­wives; the men are bank exec­u­tives and import-export merchants.

At its core, Where the Wind Blew is Michel Bensadon’s exca­va­tion of his com­plex child­hood. The younger son of mis­matched par­ents from enor­mous­ly dif­fer­ent Jew­ish back­grounds, Ben­sadon recon­structs his moth­er and father’s sto­ries, the shock­ing end of their mar­riage, and the after­ef­fects of that trauma.

Lily Mar­ber is an inde­pen­dent twen­ty-one-year-old from an accom­plished Vien­nese fam­i­ly run­ning from the oncom­ing Holo­caust when she lands in Tang­i­er in 1939. She meets con­tent­ed bach­e­lor Elias Ben­sadon, the twen­ty-nine-year-old duti­ful son of a well-regard­ed Sephar­di fam­i­ly, at a hotel tea dance. Both are quick­ly smit­ten, though Bensadon’s fam­i­ly won­ders about the morals of this refu­gia­da (refugee).

Per­son­al and his­toric events over­lap. Lily be­comes preg­nant and they decide to mar­ry. On their wed­ding day, Elias’s bride-to-be spends the morn­ing at the Tang­i­er beach, hor­ri­fy­ing her super­sti­tious in-laws. Mean­while, Elias makes extra­or­di­nary efforts when he learns that Lily’s par­ents have escaped Vien­na but remain trapped in France and fear deporta­tion. A year lat­er, he reunites Dr. Emil Mar­ber, wife Her­mine, and their daugh­ter Lisl with Lily in Morocco.

For a while, all is well. Michel is born in 1944. The war ends; the fam­i­ly remains in Tang­i­er. Soon, how­ev­er, cul­tur­al col­li­sions between sophis­ti­cat­ed Lily and tra­di­tion­al Elias desta­bi­lize Michel’s idyl­lic child­hood. On New Year’s Day 1951, lit­tle Michel sens­es a stormy break between his par­ents. Short­ly there­after, Lily leaves — aban­don­ing not only Elias but also her two sons. She returns only for occa­sion­al visits.

Bensadon’s quest to under­stand this fam­i­ly dra­ma — which he con­nects to the treach­er­ous North African wind he knew as Simoun—dri­ves the nar­ra­tive of Where the Wind Blew. (It seems apt that Michel grows up to be a psy­chother­a­pist.) But in telling his per­son­al sto­ry, Ben­sadon con­veys much more — the beau­ty of the Tang­i­er land­scape, the his­tor­i­cal back­ground of the local Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion, sen­so­ry mem­o­ries of Shab­bat and Purim cel­e­bra­tions, insight into how Jews inter­act­ed with their Mus­lim neighbors.

This hand­some­ly self-pub­lished mem­oir includes fam­i­ly pho­tos and doc­u­ments that expand our plea­sure (only slight­ly marred by typo­graph­ic odd­i­ties such as the con­fu­sion of hyphens and dash­es). By explor­ing one family’s sto­ry, Where the Wind Blew opens a win­dow onto a wrench­ing moment in the life of a fas­ci­nat­ing, over­looked Jew­ish community.

Relat­ed Content:

Ira Wolf­man is a writer and edi­tor with a deep inter­est in Jew­ish his­to­ry. He is the author of Jew­ish New York: Notable Neigh­bor­hoods, Mem­o­rable Moments (Uni­verse Books) and the own­er of POE Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a con­sult­ing firm that spe­cial­izes in edu­ca­tion­al publishing.

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