Lawrence Durrell’s ‘Justine’: Missing Alexandria

1960s: Days of Rage


“Twenty years after he published Justine, the first novel of his Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell returned to the city of his obsession. The signs of decay were everywhere, but he fixated on one small but telling change: The colorful movie posters he had loved, showcasing films in numerous languages, were now exclusively in Arabic. Where was the multilingual, multicultural society he had chronicled so painstakingly and poetically? It was 1977, a quarter-century after the revolution in Egypt that toppled a king. After years of military rule, Alexandria’s cosmopolitan culture was almost completely gone. According to Durrell biographer Michael Haag in his book, Alexandria: City of Memory, the novelist found the city ‘listless,’ declared that it had sunk ‘into oblivion’ and was depressing ‘beyond endurance.’ Were Durrell to return again now, he might despair even more. Two years after the Arab Spring precipitated another revolution, Egypt has seen a…

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