"When Henry walked along the narrow alleyways in the Jewish quarter, where he could find candied fruit at a better price, some people would turn to look at him. But only briefly: there were quite a few English people in the city, although not many had such an arrogant air about them."
Opening with the image of an elegant British diplomat in Thessaloniki in the mid-19th century, this is a fascinating reconstruction of Elisabetta Rasy’s family origins. In those days, Thessaloniki was part of the Ottoman Empire, a cultural and commercial crossroads between the Greeks, Turks, Bulgarians and Jews on the threshold of great political and cultural changes that would lead the city into the 20th century and Europe, albeit heavily steeped in a deeply infused Middle Eastern essence. The Rasy family leave Thessaloniki and move, first, to Alexandria in Egypt, then to Cyprus, and finally to Naples. And it’s right in that lively, noisy Neapolitan soul that the author discovers traces of the Levantine spirit of her city of origin. And in her story – split between Thessaloniki and Naples, from where the two branches of her family come – history is intertwined with many personal tales. Love stories, journeys, weddings and farewells enrich the lives of these enchanting characters, with one or two women standing out: aunt Clementina, “sinuous and languid like an odalisque,” and the elderly grandmother Evelina, a hardened poker player. And so Elisabetta Rasy reconstructs and narrates a story spanning reality and fiction that evokes both the Mediterranean and the East.