A Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of 2011
Celebrated as one of the most poignant stylists of his generation, André Aciman has written a luminous series of linked essays about time, place, identity, and art that show him at his very finest. From beautiful and moving pieces about the memory evoked by the scent of lavender; to meditations on cities like Barcelona, Rome, Paris, and New York; to his sheer ability to unearth life secrets from an ordinary street corner, Alibis reminds the reader that Aciman is a master of the personal essay.
This lambent collection of essays many of which appeared in slightly altered form in literary magazines by the author of the memoir Out of Egypt is a reminiscence. Bound by the Latin derivation of the title (meaning "elsewhere"), each essay is an exercise in nostalgia. In the hands of an artist like Aciman, nostalgia is not so much a self-indulgence as it is a revelation on the mysterious passage of time, on memory as the alchemical measure of truth. Aciman, a Jew of Alexandria whose native tongue is French, chronicles how he has never been able to feel at home, shamed by the uncertainties of youthful displacement and assimilation; his family's history of exile in Italy likewise feeds into Aciman's writing. The best pieces in this uneven collection rhapsodize on Cambridge, Mass., with its chemist-shop scent of lavender; on the timeless palimpsest of cultures that is the Eternal City; on life in Venice; on the tragic Jewish past of Barcelona; and the "derivative city" New York that is now home. These pieces drill into the brain.