Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere by André Aciman

notlikethebeer's review against another edition

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If I ever go back to Paris (which I hope I will), I won't return to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is the biggest draw of Paris, and so everyone flocks there, understandably. However, from the top of the Eiffel Tower, you look out over the city and realise that the landscape is missing one essential thing: the pyramid-esque structure that makes you know you are in Paris. The question becomes- do you want to go up the Eiffel Tower, and be in Paris by knowing you are up there; or do you want to seek alternate views (the Sacre Coeur, for example), and be in Paris by being able to see the Eiffel Tower? This is what I was reminded of when Aciman presented, in the final chapter of the book, the choice of whether you want to be in Manhattan, or see Manhattan.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that Aciman brilliantly and eloquently communicated all manner of opinions, emotions and concepts that I know I've given a lot of attention to, and that I think many of us do. His knack is for making the personal universal, and he does this so well in Alibis- presents his own experiences, unique to him, in a way that I, for one, felt seen and heard. As a fan of CMBYN, Alibis is different, because it's not about the same love affairs- but that is not to say it is not about love affairs at all. Even Aciman's tenuous conflicted relationship with Alexandria is a love affair in it's own way. I think the main criticism of this book is that Aciman sometimes complicates his point: there are times when I think I fully understand what he means, then a page later it's become more complex and I'm unsure. It's not an easy read, in that the act of reading and understanding it is somewhat intense!

That being said, Alibis is excellent. It is very personal, and I don't want to take away Aciman's experiences of someone in exile, someone who has had to face identity in a way many of us have the privilege to ignore. That being said, there is so much universality here too. This is a collection of essays for anyone who feels they never quite fit in, for anyone who's identity feels fragmented and in flux, for anyone who wants to inhabit an Eiffel Tower with a view of the Eiffel Tower, or a Manhattan with a view of Manhattan: both, and neither, at exactly the same time.

flynxnguyen's review

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As for a sheath, however, I'd spot mine in a second. It is place. I begin my inward journey by writing about place. Some do so by writing about love, war, suffering, cruelty, power, God, or country. I write about place, or the memory of place. I write about a city called Alexandria, which I'm supposed to have loved, and about other cities that remind me of a vanished world to which I allegedly wish to return. I write about exile, remembrance, and the passage of time. I write—so it would seem—to recapture, to preserve and return to the past, though I might just as easily be writing to forget and put that past behind me. 

willa_rose15's review against another edition

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emotional hopeful inspiring reflective slow-paced


beautifully written

marcomakinen's review

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emotional mysterious reflective medium-paced


zjunjunia's review against another edition

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My first time reading a collection of essays and I'm glad I picked this one as I know I love his writing. Short stories, essays - I have little experience of reading shorter writing forms. Even with things like Sherlock Holmes, I'd read one short story after another to make it feel like a continuation. But there is a beauty in these shorter, self-contained forms. They do not demand much in character development and can spend more time on minutia. Not only did I enjoy this form, but I also think this may be the writing form I would/could/should dive into first in my own personal writing journey. His first essay on Lavendar triggered an idea for an essay to write. I particularly enjoyed using an object, concept or idea to then time-travel and visit multiple moments and feelings versus having to go through life chronologically. As the essays progressed, I didn't feel the same appreciation as the earlier ones. They were shorter and felt repetitive. Should a collection of essays also have a symbiosis and logic when placed together? I think so.

Some quotes:

"Sometimes the history of provisional attachments means more to us that the attachments themselves"
"Sometimes it is blind ritual and not faith that we encounter the sacred, the way it is habit not character that makes us who we are"
"lives in the dark so as not to be blinded when darkness comes"
"I liked the idea of tea more than the flavors themselves, the way I liked the idea of tobacco more than of smoking, of people more than of friendship, of home more than my apartment on Craigie Street."
"unlock memory's sluice gate, one by one - without effort, caution, or ceremony"

"Could parts of us just die to the past so that returning brings nothing back?"
"It dawned on me much later that evening that our truest, most private moments, like our truest, most private memories, are made of just such unreal, flimsy stuff. Fictions"
Emerson: "To believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men - that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense."
"What we reach for and what ultimately touches us is the radiance we projected on things, not the things themselves - the envelope, not the letter, the wrapping, not the gift."
La Princesse de Clèves, Madame de La Fayette: "I thought that if anything could rekindle your feelings for me, it was to let you see that mine too had changed, but to let you see this by feigning to conceal it from you, as if I lacked the courage to acknowledge it to you."
"Writing - as I did later that day - is intended to dig out the fault lines where truth and dissembling shift places. Or is it meant to bury them even deeper?"

My Monet Moment:
"art is about discover and design and a reasoning with chaos."

"firms up the present by experiencing it from the futures as a moment in the past"
"What stands between him and life is not his fear of the present; it is the present."

A Literary Pilgrim Progresses to the Past:
"Some crudely mistake confession for introspection"

Roman Hours:
"Enforced errancy and mild discontentment are the best guide."

The Sea and Remembrance:
"Water cities are like conditional, transient homes; they are our romance with the sea, with time, with space, with ourselves."

Place des Vosges:
La Rochefoucauld: "If we had no faults, we would not take so much pleasure in noticing them in others."

In Tuscany:
"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."

busymorning's review against another edition

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I started this book in January and have taken it with me while I travel. His writing evokes certain emotions I feel while I'm elsewhere and enlightens me to look at and pay attention to my surroundings. I find connections. I think introspectively.

"Lavender" and "A Literary Pilgrim Progresses to the Past" are my favorite essays and thus I give it the four star rating for that. Not all the essays were enjoyed, but most contained a line or two that I highlighted for reflection upon a future pick-up from my shelf.

oceanelle's review against another edition

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This was the only book I brought with me to meet my family in Poland for the first time in my entire life. Little did I know that it was the perfect book to bring--the only book that would encapsulate every contradicting feeling I had about home, identity, memory, time, and understanding where I fit into all of these things. Aciman's writing is beautiful and precise; I feel grateful to myself for taking it along on this journey.

radioactve_piano's review against another edition

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I don't think it should have taken me this long to slog through 200 pages, but there we have it. I definitely slogged. There's absolutely no other word for it. The writing is verbose without being enjoyable, and that's okay -- Aciman does state that he writes to find truth, not that he writes with an outline of where he's going. I'd expect meandering sentences and thoughts from that style of writing.

These essays were repetitive, which also shouldn't be surprising -- the author is always in one place, thinking about being in another. He is searching for meanings but only defining them by falsified memories or imaginary happenings. It's human nature to reframe situations, but I honestly lost patience with the author's way of creating context that didn't exist for absolutely everything.

The brief touching upon the difference between fact and fiction, especially in memoirs (and memories), set the tone for my entire enjoyment level of this book. Ultimately, he wants the reader to connect with everything -- his take on place, his idea about belonging, his tenuous grasp of truth. I don't like liars; I don't like people who make half-apologies for intentional lies; and I don't like someone who combines the two things and reasons through his choices to try to force the reader accept what he's saying -- and beyond that, to force the reader to say, "Yes, I completely agree with you! Well done!"

skippy2020's review

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Read for the ReadHarder challenge 8- Read a travel memoir.... Not your usual travel memoir, this is a gorgeously written collection of essays on place and identity. I loved how personal each essay was, each meditation sharing intimate musings, so specific, so evocative.....

caramm's review

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adventurous emotional funny hopeful lighthearted reflective slow-paced