|Faber and Faber first edition 1957|
Twenty years after he published Justine, the first novel of his Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell returned to the city of his obsession. The signs of decay were everywhere, but he fixated on one small but telling change: The colorful movie posters he had loved, showcasing films in numerous languages, were now exclusively in Arabic. Where was the multilingual, multicultural society he had chronicled so painstakingly and poetically?
It was 1977, a quarter-century after the revolution in Egypt that toppled a king. After years of military rule, Alexandria's cosmopolitan culture was almost completely gone. According to Durrell biographer Michael Haag in his book, Alexandria: City of Memory, the novelist found the city "listless," declared that it had sunk "into oblivion" and was depressing "beyond endurance."
Were Durrell to return again now, he might despair even more. Two years after the Arab Spring precipitated another revolution, Egypt has seen a repressive Islamist government followed, again, by military rule. And just a few weeks ago, a young American Jew was murdered in Alexandria, which had once been a beacon for a mix of cultures, religions, outsiders and the young.
So begins the article in The Wall Street Journal by Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. To read the whole thing, click here.
For more on Durrell's Alexandria and on Eve Durrell, who was a model for Justine, click here and here.