Sometimes I think the art of the essay was left behind decades ago in favor of the more self-absorbed memoir in short pieces. But then I'm reminded of André Aciman, and I'm grateful that a master has made it to the twenty-first century. His Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere has just come out in paperback.
Here's the publisher's summary:
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.The elsewhere in the subtitle of Aciman's collection encompasses not only physical space but also time and memory. His essays have a nostalgic air but are not indulgent or melancholic. And they are truly essays: not short stories, not memoir, not travel pieces.
In Alibis, Aciman savors his journeys, sometimes pondering the impossibility of recapturing the past, and sometimes celebrating the special moments that do just that. But no matter where he is, Aciman is aware of the connections between time and place, whether he remembers walking his sons home from the school bus or imagines Monet at work in his studio.
I especially liked the comparison Aciman made between himself and his wife. She, who lived all her life in America, travels Europe looking for new experiences and relishing the idea of getting lost in the surroundings. He, who lives in exile from his native Alexandria, is looking for the old and familiar, hoping to be found.
Here's a paragraph I marked from p. 141:
And this is what I've always suspected about Tuscany. It is about many beautiful things—about small towns, magnificent vistas, and fabulous cuisine, art, culture, history—but it is ultimately about the love of books. It is a reader's paradise. People come here because of books. Tuscany may well be for people who love life in the present—simple, elaborate, whimsical, complicated life in the present—but it is also for people who love the present when it bears the shadow of the past, who love the world provided it's at a slight angle. Bookish people.Treat yourself to André Aciman's Alibis. But don't rush through it. Read it essay by essay and then shelve it where you can return to it to share a passage, to dream of Paris, or to think about your own elsewheres.
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Published by Macmillan / Picador 2012
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