Pan-European Lives: The Sun at Midday by Gini Alhadeff

While I try not to judge a book by its cover, some covers definitely grab my attention. With its sepia-toned portrait of an exotic and unidentifiable old world cityscape, I found Gini Alhadeff’s The Sun at Midday: Tales of a Mediterranean Family hard to pass up when I came across a copy during one of my weekend public library visits. Making it even harder to resist was the promise of a Mediterranean family’s history, as opposed to say solely that of an Italian or Turkish one. Lastly, when it comes to books I have a soft spot for the obscure, the forgotten and the overlooked. Therefore, none of us should be surprised that I grabbed The Sun at Midday and took it home to read.

Published in 1997, The Sun at Midday is part memoir and part family history. As for her own history, Alhadeff was born in Alexandria to Italian parents who were Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism while living in Italy. (Raised Roman Catholic and her Jewish roots kept secret from her, only later as a young adult living on her own did she learn the whole story.) Forced out of Egypt by Nasser’s nationalist policies, her family relocated to Khartoum, Sudan in order to restart the family cotton business. After that Alhadeff would go on to call Florence, Tokyo,  London and New York all home. While I wouldn’t call her a wealthy and glamorous jet-setter, nevertheless she seems well-traveled, sophisticated and cultured.

To me it’s the lives of her assorted family members I found the most memorable. With a playboy Catholic priest for a cousin and a gynecologist uncle who survived Auschwitz there’s no shortage of interesting material. Going back a bit in her family tree there are brushes with the rich and powerful, fortunes made and lost and narrow escapes from danger. And plenty of scandal and love affairs to keep things entertaining.

With tales of Alhadeff’s Alexandrian origins, Sephardic roots and family drama, The Sun at Midday reminded me a lot of Andre Acimen’s Out of Egypt. Even the two authors’ writing style, seemed very similar. Therefore, if you can read both books back to back, I’d encourage you to do so. Then, after reading those two books follow them up with Lucette Lagnado’s excellent memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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Filed under Arab World, Europe, History, Judaica, Memoir, Middle East/North Africa, Turkey

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