Without Return: Memoirs of an Egyptian Jew 1930-1957
An inspiring story of courage and intergenerational wisdom
“When my grandson Jake was around fifteen years old, he and I decided to share brunch every weekend. Like many teenagers, he was struggling with timeless questions about God, death, and the meaning of life. During our brunches he shared his thoughts on politics and worldwide conflicts with passionate concern. I assured him that at his age, I had similar questions . . . and that I nonetheless found life beautiful and meaningful while I was growing up. Much to my surprise Jake proved to be sincerely interested in my stories. He would stare at me and exclaim, ‘Cool! Cool, go on . . .’”
Thus begins Without Return—drawn from the stories Jacques Sardas told his grandson about growing up in a Sephardic Jewish family in Alexandria, Egypt, and, later, Cairo. Although Jacques’s family was poor, they were closely knit, and they found a way to survive and even take pleasure in what they had. But when prejudice and violence against Jews escalated after the Suez Crisis, Jacques and his family decided to emigrate. To his surprise and dismay, their exit visas bore the words “Departure definitive, without return”: the authorities had decreed that Jacques and others like him—people who were considered “foreign,” even though they had been born in Egypt—could never see their homeland again.
Like Out of Egypt and The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Without Return will speak to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. It testifies eloquently to the common humanity that unites us and offers an evocative journey into a world where people of all races and nationalities—Greeks, Arabs, Jews, Italians, and French, among others—once lived together in peaceful coexistence. Above all, it is an engrossing personal history that encourages readers of all ages to discover their own.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 8.50 out of 10
Plot: The author injects the narrative with a good balance of personal, political, and historical information, helping readers understand the family's experiences during times of upheaval. The story has a clear beginning, middle, and end that will engage readers.
Prose: The narrative voice of this memoir is full of kindness and compassion. The clear, precise prose is reminiscent of an elder passing down wisdom to future generations.
Originality: This book covers a time period in Egypt—the 1930s to the 1950s—that isn't widely written about. Many readers will learn a lot from this book that helps fill a gap in the collective consciousness.
Character Development: The narrator is by far the most fully developed character. He learns the most and experiences the most change. And, he proves to be a character in whom readers will become invested.
Date Submitted: July 11, 2017