Lawrence Durrell’s ‘Justine’: Missing Alexandria

“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. For Durrell’s Alexandria was an exotic city where Jews and Europeans existed alongside Muslims, and where there were constant interactions between the cultures and religions. His characters, especially his lovely protagonist, she of the ‘somber brow-dark gaze,’ mirrored Alexandria in all its complexities—its elegance and searing poverty, its ancient Arab ways and modern European mores. Justine was the essence of Alexandria, its ‘true child…neither Greek, Syrian, nor Egyptian, but a hybrid.’ The plot of Justine seems simple enough. An Anglo-Irish schoolteacher and aspiring writer becomes romantically involved with the eponymous Justine, a married Egyptian society woman in pre-World War II Alexandria. … Justine—alluring, seductive, mournful, prone to dark, cryptic pronouncements—is the centrifugal force of the novel. …”
London Review of Books: Sink or Skim – Michael Wood
Revisiting Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet
amazon: The Lawrence Durrell Travel Reader

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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