Alibis Essays on Elsewhere

André Aciman




Trade Paperback

208 Pages



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A Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of the Year  Celebrated as one of the most poignant stylists of his generation, André Aciman has written a luminous series of linked essays about time, place, identity, and art that show him at his very finest. From beautiful and moving pieces about the memory evoked by the scent of lavender; to meditations on cities like Barcelona, Rome, Paris, and New York; to his sheer ability to unearth life secrets from an ordinary street corner, Alibis reminds the reader that Aciman is a master of the personal essay.


Praise for Alibis

“Many of these essays begin with a city—New York, Barcelona, Rome—before spiraling into images and ideas that connect with other places and times in Aciman’s own well-traveled history. Born in Egypt, raised in a French-speaking Jewish family, his complex identity (is he African? French? Jewish?) confronts him with a ‘fundamental distortion’ that he can make sense of only by the transformative power of art . . . In a brilliant piece called ‘Temporizing,’ Aciman examines his own propensity for filtering all experiences through the Egypt in his mind. Writing, even thinking, thus becomes ‘an interminable restoration project whose purpose is to prevent all contact with the present.’ With his sly self-deprecation and supple, curious mind, Aciman is the perfect guide through the mysteries of time and place.”—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

“Maddening though this habit of searching for displaced selves might be in a traveling companion—the word ‘alibi’ literally means ‘elsewhere’—it is a pleasure in an essayist. While the roll call of places visited by Mr. Aciman is unexceptional, his angle on them is anything but, since his weakness for traveling ‘in search of lost time’ opens up telescoping possibilities of reverie and speculation. The allusion to Proust . . . sets the tone. Sometimes the lost time prospected is his own history, sometimes the history of a place, but the journey is always beguiling and its conclusion often poignant.”—Elizabeth Lowry, The Wall Street Journal

“André Aciman is, quite simply, one of the finest essayists of the last hundred years—you’d have to go back much farther, perhaps a visit to Montaigne, to find the combination of elegance, restraint, and longing that Aciman so generously bestows upon his reader . . . You emerge with a perspective on life. You are reminded of the hard-won beauty of it all. You want to travel, to see things—they are a cure for agoraphobia . . . In these 16 essays, he explores everything: sight, smell, imagination, reality, numbness, decay, intimacy. He recalls favorite streets and streets he embellished in his memory, cities (Barcelona, Rome, New York), stories he told and stories he was told and where they met in the middle. He thinks about writing and how it alters experience . . . Aciman’s theorem: What you find when you go looking is almost always better than what you hoped for. Try it out. Assume it to be the case.”—Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Review of Books 

"Aciman is neither a thrill-seeking tourist nor a sophisticated Baudelarian flâneur, but rather a man in search of intense and unexpected moments of introspection, which are triggered by the various settings and cultures he encounters . . . In Aciman’s writing, behind a facade of discussions, reminiscence, and contemplation there appear sudden slippages, admissions into the world of ‘ancient riffs and sunken cities’ that are fraught with truths that cannot be experienced other than through hints and insinuations. In that way, Alibis is a much more personal and revealing book than Aciman’s memoir or his first essay collection. Now that the author has dissected his writing methodology and thought process so meticulously, the next book and new direction he’ll go toward seems more of a mystery still . . . That’s part of the excitement of reading Aciman, whose work is never a mere jest or entertaining distraction but genuine self-inquiry.”—Jake Marmer, Tablet

“In Aciman’s hands [memory] seems fresh and complex once again . . . On the occasion of Alibis, his project is ostensibly the result of his travels, and he does indeed treat readers to length reflections on Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Tuscany, and New York, among other locales. But these are not simple city guides. They are personal, searching efforts, prompted by places which hold some mythic quality for the author, places which have figured prominently in his life . . . Place itself is a door to other concerns for Aciman—the role of memory in particular, as well as how we form our identities across years and experiences. If his concerns sound weighty, he balances them against a fluid, engaging style, one equally suited to handling painful memories and dear ones alike . . . Aciman’s work is consistently thoughtful and unsentimental . . . André Aciman is a writer in full command of his powers . . . Alibis is a quiet, unassuming triumph.”—John Mcintyre, The Millions

“Now and then . . . we are offered a reading experience that reminds us of the gold standard in literature, and one such book is Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere by André Aciman . . . he shares with Proust an ability to plumb the depths of memory and meaning in the observed details of ordinary life . . . Aciman resolves the contradictions that he embodies—‘This feeling of being cut off from oneself or of being in two places at the same time’—with a simple credo: ‘Art is nothing more than an exalted way of stylizing distortions that have become unbearable.’ The statement surely applies to his own book, a work of alchemy that turns lead into gold.”—Jonathan Kirsch, The Jewish Journal

“In each essay, Aciman elegantly palpates these themes of place and displacement (‘dispersion, evasion, ambivalence’) . . . Aciman’s own travel essays—on Venice, the Place des Vosges, Tuscany, Barcelona and New York—filter the present through an ever-shifting palette of sensuous memory and impression. These essays sing with bracing clarity.”—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


Life begins somewhere with the scent of lavender. My father is standing in front of a mirror. He has just showered and shaved and is about to put on a suit. I watch him tighten the knot of his necktie, flip down his shirt collar, and button it up. Suddenly, there it is, as always: lavender.
I know where it comes from. An elaborately shaped bottle sits on the dresser. One day, when I’m having a very bad migraine and am lying on the living room sofa, my mother, scrambling for something to take my mind off the pain, picks up the bottle, unscrews the cap, and
Read the full excerpt


  • André Aciman

  • André Aciman is the author of Eight White Nights, Call Me by Your NameOut of Egypt, and False Papers, and is the editor of The Proust Project.  He teaches comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He lives with his wife and family in Manhattan.
  • André Aciman ©Sigrid Estrada