A compendium of memories of coming-of-age in Egypt and trying to change outdated traditions to the demands of modern life.
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In her award-winning book, The Immigrants' Daughter, (http://www.usabooknews.com/bestbooksawards2006), the author captures the universal immigrant experience through her personal memories. The scene is set in Cairo in the 1940’s. She is a member of a tightly knit Armenian family living in an expatriate community of genocide survivors, or escapees, like her parents, from Turkey, during and after World War I. Peaceful life, joy with younger brother’s arrival and happy celebrations with the clan are rocked by World War II, trauma in the family and brother’s departure behind the Iron Curtain. The usual inter generational tensions defending tradition against emancipation are constantly present, especially with regard to the inferior status of women. It is also a turbulent period in Egypt’s political history transitioning from kingdom to republic.
The Immigrants’ Daughter, interspersed with wit, is a triumph over destiny, a leap from passive acceptance of fate into a fierce battle for self-determination.
In August 1948, a large crowd gathers at the quay in Alexandria to bid the repatriates goodbye. It is a happy and sad moment. Those who leave hope that this will be the last move of their migrant life. Those who remain wonder what they will embrace by staying behind. The local political situation is far from being stable.
It is a solemn moment for our family, witnessing another traumatic departure to a point of no return, exactly seven years after Mama’s death. Kev comes by to kiss us goodbye, picks up his neatly repacked valise, after the rough handling at the Customs, and walks towards the bridge that provides access to the s/s Pobeda, the Russian ship that will take them home. He stops at the base for identification formalities. There seems to be a glitch, some kind of argument. We wait, with anxiety. The officer gives him back his passport but bars his access to the ship. Kev walks back towards us. I have one last hope. Did he change his mind? No. He is a minor, a few days shy of his eighteenth birthday. He needs to secure Father’s permission in order to leave.
Father faces a dilemma. If he does not sign, father-and-son hostilities will resume. If he agrees, Father will lose his firstborn to an unknown land behind the Iron Curtain, even though it is our Motherland. Sons in the Middle East are the sole support of parents, their social security. At this stage of the game it is too late to stop Kev. Father picks up the pen and signs his name on the authorization form with trembling fingers. His “spine is broken.”
The Pobeda departs within the hour. Numerous Armenian families are thus separated again, with hopes of reuniting one day in free Armenia.
I cry bitterly. Would Mama have allowed Kev to leave? I feel utterly defenseless and vulnerable. Father’s temperament turns acid, a change that affects Berj and me. Will our lives ever be the same? Will Kev’s be the last migration? Our soles do not stick to the ground, because the soil we tread upon is not ours. Where do we go from here?