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City of Memory

Michael Haag

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A luminous portrait of the now-vanished cosmopolitan city and those who inhabited it during the first half of the 20th century

This book is a literary, social, and political portrait of Alexandria at a high point of its history. Drawing on diaries, letters, and interviews, Michael Haag recovers the lost life of the city, its cosmopolitan inhabitants, and its literary characters.
Located on the coast of Africa yet rich in historical associations with Western civilization, Alexandria was home to an exotic variety of people whose cosmopolitan families had long been rooted in the commerce and the culture of the entire Mediterranean world.
Alexandria famously excited the imaginations of writers, and Haag folds intimate accounts of E. M. Forster, Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, and Lawrence Durrell into the story of its inhabitants. He recounts the city’s experience of the two world wars and explores the communities that gave Alexandria its unique flavor: the Greek, the Italian, and the Jewish. The book deftly harnesses the sexual and emotional charge of cosmopolitan life in this extraordinary city, and highlights the social and political changes over the decades that finally led to Nasser’s Egypt.

Michael Haag is a writer, photographer and publisher. He published and provided the afterword and notes to the first British edition of E. M. Forster’s Alexandria: A History and a Guide, and he is the author/photographer of Alexandria Illustrated (The American University in Cairo Press).

“Michael Haag’s Alexandria is a remarkable achievement. Not merely a composite biography of Forster, Cavafy and Durrell, or their relations with the city, it is also a history of Alexandria, full of fascinating detail.”—Sir Frank Kermode

“In his new book, Michael Haag mixes memory and biography, politics and cultural studies in clear and seamless prose.”—Amos Elon, New York Review of Books


“This is full of intrigue and incident, and sparkles with countless delightful details.”—S.B Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

“A book rich with atmosphere.”—Richard Edmunds, The Birmingham Post

“A fine and deft interweaving of the personal and the political.”—Michael Glover, The Financial Times

“A brilliant portrait not only of Alexandria, but also of an international city.”—The Guardian

“Ending this haunting book, some readers may want to re-read it at once.”—Philip Mansel, The Guardian

“Haag’s Alexandria goes further than any book I know to animate the world these people lived and loved.”—Anthony Sattin, The Sunday Times

"[Haag] deftly crafts a nostalgic portrait of Egypt’s second city."—Choice

ISBN: 9780300191127
Publication Date: September 27, 2004
384 pages, 7 1/2 x 9 1/4
84 b/w illus.