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Farewell to Alexandria

Farewell to Alexandria: Eleven Short Stories

Harry E. Tzalas
Translated by Susan E. Mantouvalou
Illustrated by Anna Boghiguian
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Farewell to Alexandria
    Book Description:

    The eleven short stories in this book take us back to an Alexandria past, the cosmopolitan city as it was experienced by the author in the years before, during, and following the Second World War. Against a backdrop of major events in Alexandria’s history, from the halcyon days of the late 1930s, through the alarums of the War, to the 1952 Revolution and the dispersion of almost the entire foreign community of the city, Tzalas weaves his stories peopled with characters from his youth. These are ordinary people, people of different nationalities and faiths, but all Alexandrians, living side by side in the Great City. In describing each character with great sensitivity and perception, Tzalas succeeds not only in capturing the essence of the city itself, but in poignantly foretelling the fundamental changes and exodus that were to come. The events surrounding, among others, a German family caught in the city during the Second World War, three French monks, an old Greek musician, and a group of cultivated elderly Alexandrian gentlemen, are told with an affection often tinged with sadness. Through these characters, Tzalas tells the story of everyday lives caught up in the turbulent currents of history and the transformation of a beloved city—the end of an era. Each of the eleven stories is accompanied by an evocative illustration by Anna Boghiguian.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-221-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. vii-viii)

    The eleven narratives contained in this book were written at different times. The first,Osta Antoun, was written at the end of the 1970s, the last,The Quails, fifteen years later.

    Osta Antoun, The Little Armenian Girl, The Maestro,andFrau Gretewere all written before my visit to Alexandria in the spring of 1988—the first time I had revisited the city since my emigration in 1956.

    Much ofAmm Ahmad, Father and Sonwas jotted down in a school exercisebook during that brief visit to the city in 1988 and completed later, upon my return to Athens.


  4. Chapter 1 Osta Antoun
    (pp. 1-8)

    Antoun was a poor Lebanese shoemaker, born in Alexandria, as was his father, and his father before him. He spoke Arabic as well as French. He was a Christian and dressed in the European fashion, not in a gallabiya like the locals. Which of his forefathers had first come to Egypt from Lebanon and just when they settled in Alexandria Antoun did not know, but then, such questions did not concern him.

    Antoun was a master shoemaker. After years of apprenticeship as assistant to a master craftsman, he himself became a master and had his own assistant. He was worthy...

  5. Chapter 2 The Little Armenian Girl
    (pp. 9-16)

    It was in all the papers. The photograph made the front page. ThePobedawas coming: a great, white Russian ship to carry the Armenians back home.

    The arrival of a Russian ship so soon after the war was quite an event. All the Europeans of Alexandria were talking about it. ThePobedawas to take the first of the repatriating Armenians, and other ships would follow for the rest.

    There was a large Armenian community in Alexandria that had its own schools, churches, sporting clubs, fraternities, folk-dancing groups. The Armenians were quiet, hard-working people—money-changers, jewelers, tradesmen, cobblers, small...

  6. Chapter 3 The Maestro
    (pp. 17-30)

    They used to call him Maestro. As children, we were not particularly interested in knowing what his real name was. He played the guitar, the bouzouki, the mandolin, and the banjo. He gave music lessons to the children of acquaintances’ families in order to scrape together a meager living—to put a little food on his table and some pin-money in his pocket. As if it were not enough that the Maestro was poor and world-weary, he was also blind. Or perhaps I should say that he could barely see, because I often noticed him turn toward the light and...

  7. Chapter 4 Frau Grete
    (pp. 31-46)

    “Come and see! Children, come and see! Look, it’s snowing!”

    Snow in Alexandria? Why, it seemed impossible, but Frau Grete was right; it really was snowing! She was absolutely ecstatic. She ran outside in her nightdress, out onto the small corner balcony which looked out over the sea, tearfully calling for the children to come outside and see the snow:

    “Schnee! Schnee! . . . Komm Karl, komm Brigitte, Schnee! Schnee!”

    The entire city was up and about. People were out on their balconies, down in the street. They stared unbelievingly at the lead-gray sky that seemed to be hanging...

  8. Chapter 5 Sidi Bishr, October 1942
    (pp. 47-58)

    “We’ll leave tomorrow. We’re going to Sidi Bishr to stay with Uncle Gaetano.” Without any other explanation, my mother announced that we would be leaving our apartment in the center of town and moving to Sidi Bishr, in those days a deserted little village on the coast a few kilometers outside Alexandria. My mother said this with something like relief, as if the decision had been tormenting her for some time, and she added, “Now that your grandmother’s passed away, it’s best that we leave . . . ”

    My Italian grandmother, our Nonna, as we called her, had died...

  9. Chapter 6 The Three Brothers
    (pp. 59-72)

    Before the war there may have been more monks at our school, but by the 1940s there were only three of them left. They were all French, belonged to the Order of Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, and had dedicated their lives to the education of the young.

    Frère Léon was the headmaster. He was a nice, quiet man. With his long white beard and imposing bearing, he looked rather like one of those revered patriarchal characters, as if he had emerged from the pages of our religious schoolbook. He had a slight stoop and tended to shuffle when he...

  10. Chapter 7 Athinodoros and Iordanis
    (pp. 73-98)

    The office was run by English standards. The owner, Mr.

    Athinodoros G. Pervanidis, had lived for many years in Liverpool. He had started out young in the great English port working for a leading shipping company. Gradually, with hard work, he had been promoted to supervisor of the accounting department and later, when the company took on a Greek partner, Pervanidis was made general manager. When he was over sixty years old, at an age when most are retiring, Mr. Athinodoros decided to set up his own business. He returned to Alexandria, the city of his birth, and opened a...

  11. Chapter 8 Amm Ahmad, Father and Son
    (pp. 99-114)

    Amm Ahmad was the janitor in theokellawhere we lived. To be more precise, I should say, he was thebawwab—that’s what we called the janitors in Egypt. A tall, gangly Nubian of indeterminate age. If you had said he was eighty, you might have been doing him an injustice; perhaps he was just a wizened sixty-year- old.

    He was literally skin and bone. His shrunken skin was the color of rust and stuck to his bones, seeming almost to hold them together. He reminded me of a pharaonic mummy. When I first saw the mummy of Ramses...

  12. Chapter 9 Alexandrea ad Aegyptum
    (pp. 115-128)

    “Over there, on the shore beyond Ramleh Station, you could see the ancient remnants of the old city reaching right down to the sea. Next to the ruins stood a grand, majestic pharaonic obelisk of granite, and nearby, another stone giant lay slain and half buried in the sand. A little farther on, near the square where the statue of Khedive Ismail now stands, you could still see the toppled medieval walls of the Arab city.

    “I was just a child then,” Docteur Tawa went on, “but I remember it as if it were yesterday. Over there at Silsila, the...

  13. Chapter 10 The As and the Fs of History
    (pp. 129-142)

    When I visited Muharram Bey for the first time, nobody knew that ten years before, during the war, Lawrence Durrell had lived there. In those days hardly anybody in Alexandria had heard of Durrell.

    My friend Debitondi, who had attended the Scottish school of Saint Andrews and who studied English poetry and literature for hours on end, was amazed that I had not read any of Durrell’s work.

    But how could I have heard of Durrell when at that time, other than some poems, only the first two of his island books had been published—the one about Corfu and...

  14. Chapter 11 The Quails
    (pp. 143-164)

    Year after year, in autumn, as the first messages of winter arrive from the north, the quails set out on their great journey. They gather in the thousands, forming thick swarms, flying sometimes high, sometimes low, gliding over mountains, lakes, rivers. They leave in haste, restlessly beating their short wings, as if they are scared of the black clouds amassing, afraid that they might be caught on their way by the cold winter.

    Year after year, they take the same, long path, followed thousands and thousands of times before. Many fall in exhaustion, drop behind, are lost. The others stubbornly...

  15. Glossary
    (pp. 165-166)