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Aline P'nina Tayar

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How Shall We Sing? A Mediterranean Voyage Through a Jewish Family
by Aline P'nina Tayar   

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Publisher:  Picador/Pan Macmillan Australia ISBN-10:  0330362119 Type: 


Copyright:  May 30 2000

This is a book about a different sort of Jewish diaspora, a counterpoint to the tragic disappearance of the Jewish communities of central and eastern Europe. Fanning out from the island of Malta, with arguably the smallest and least known Jewish community in the world, the author takes the reader on a journey through the Jewish worlds of Tunis, Tripoli, Florence and Cairo, finally ending in Israel.

Setting the stories of individual members of her family within their historical context, Tayar tackles the theme of belonging and not belonging. When the Racial Laws were passed in Italy in 1938, for instance, one part of this family suddenly found they no longer had a place in a country in which they had lived for generations. In the Arab world where other branches of the family had lived for centuries, the rise of Islamic nationalism also found the Tayar clan not fitting into the new national definitions. But this is not a story of loss but rather of survival through constant transplantation.

The author brings to this saga of displacement a wry gentle humour, a brilliantly observant eye for cultural nuances and an unselfconscious compassion for her extraordinary ancestry.


Although I have lived in many places, I have been evicted only once - for stepping on the tail of a saluki. Salukis are an exotic breed of dusty-coloured dogs, which look impossibly more anorexic than whippets and are certainly more jittery. The offended dog was one of four hounds kept by my landlords, an Anglo-German woman and her stateless Hungarian lover. Their house was located in the heart of Tunis's souks, on a cul-de-sac in a maze of lanes which, by the early 1970s, had long ceased to be the quarter where female slaves were put up for auction. In the past it must have been a rich man's house.

Professional Reviews

The Jerusalem Post - Book Bytes
by David Brauner

Tayar's saga How Shall We Sing? A Mediterranean Journey Through a Jewish Family good-naturedly traces the steady accretion of her personal modifiers. The 1492 Spanish expulsion dotted the greater Tayar clan around the Mediterranean region basin. Tayar's own family landed on the tiny island of Malta five generations ago. By the time Aline was born in 1948, the Maltese Jewish community had diminished to arguably the smallest in the world. The author's life experience in Israel, Tunisia, France, Italy, Egypt, faraway Australia and England reads like a round-the-world itinerary. It's little wonder that Tayar's first book is deeply concerned with questions of transplantation, the nature of belonging and other people's definitions of who and what she is. Tayar, who not surprisingly is a simultaneous interpreter by profession, relates the story of her coming to Israel in 1990 to brush up her Hebrew. The airport emigration officer was baffled that a Jew born in Malta could come to Israel to study Hebrew and not intend to stay forever. At last, he simply said: 'I didn't know there were Jews in Malta'. Tayar's rejoinder was 'very few people do.' It's the take-off point for her very different book about a Jewish diaspora that is a happier counterpoint to the tragic histories of the Jewish communities of central and eastern Europe, a story of triumphant survival through displacement.

The Age, Melbourne - Agenda Section
by Mike Shuttleworth
Tayar describes herself as a Jewish Maltese Australian Englishwoman. The story of her family who have criss-crossed the Mediterranean for generations in search of peace and prosperity also reveals the hidden history of the region. Though small in number, the Jewish tradition has endured. Tayar has listened to and sought out stories of forebears and observes with great tenderness and insight the changes amid wars, sectarianism, hope and folly. The book is strong on history, but threaded with lighter moments of feasts, secrets and childhood pleasures. Tayar's book is also memorable for its portrait of growing up in a Jewish family where a range of positions towards faith are lived out, from devout to indifferent.

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Reader Reviews for "How Shall We Sing? A Mediterranean Voyage Through a Jewish Family"

Reviewed by edith israel 1/20/2011
I want to thank the author of this family book, I do enjoy having so many details about this family, which is also an important part of "My Own FAMILY !
Thank you for leaving a concrete document with this book.
Reviewed by elie tayar 5/20/2001

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