Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681376448
Pages: 432
Publication Date: June 14, 2022

Esmond and IliaAn Unreliable Memoir

by Marina Warner

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Marina Warner’s father, Esmond, met her mother, Ilia, while serving as an officer in the British Army during the Second World War. As Allied forces fought their way north through Italy, Esmond found himself in the southern town of Bari, where Ilia had grown up, one of four girls of a widowed mother. The Englishman approaching middle age and the twenty-one-year-old Italian were soon married. Before the war had come to an end, Ilia was on her way alone to London to wait for her husband’s return and to learn how to be Mrs. Esmond Warner, an Englishwoman.

Ilia begins to learn the world of cricket, riding, canned food, and distant relations she has landed in, while Esmond, in spite of his connections, struggles to support his wife and young daughter. He comes up with the idea of opening a bookshop, a branch of W.H. Smith’s, in Cairo, where he had spent happy times during the North African campaign. In Egypt, however, nationalists are challenging foreign influences, especially British ones, and before long Cairo is on fire.

Deeply felt, closely observed, rich with strange lore, Esmond and Ilia is a picture of vanished worlds, a portrait of two people struggling to know each other and themselves, a daughter’s story of trying to come to terms with a past that is both hers and unknowable to her. It is an “unreliable memoir”—what memoir isn’t?—and a lasting work of literature, lyrical, sorrowful, shaped by love and wonder.

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Praise

An entrancing weave of memoir, history, autobiography and fiction, this adventurous book voyages through time and space to rediscover, reimagine and reinvent a lost world. One of Marina Warner’s most beautiful works.
—Michèle Roberts

Warner is such a skillful and imaginative writer that much of . . . the book reads like lived experience. . . . The happiest of concoctions, a mix of fiction and fact, observation and speculation. . . . This brave, painful, dazzling memoir is riveting.
Spectator

Wonderful—a brave, inventive, touching distillation of memory and imagination, shimmering with images, sounds and scents, conjuring a clash of lives, worlds and words.
—Jenny Uglow

Poignant and mythical.
New Statesman

High-risk and multidimensional . . . Warner brings to these pages a lifetime of thinking about stories and the ways in which they shape our lives.
Literary Review

This is a wonderfully rich, partly mythical memoir that sifts through the past to connect a family’s secrets to the deep-rooted colonial assumptions that still resonate in a post-Brexit Britain . . . Never dull . . . Eloquent and heartbreaking.
TLS

Poignant and exquisitely crafted, [Esmond and Ilia] is bound to become a classic.
—Catriona Seth

As delicate as the lace her mother hemmed, as sharp as the facets of the diamond rings her mother lost, Marina Warner’s [Esmond and Ilia] is a captivating re-creation of her childhood in a lost Cairo, so incomparably louche, sensuous and fragrant, and of her parents’ improbable marriage.
—Ferdinand Mount

A poignant and imaginatively transgressive exploration of her parents’ marriage, a war-time love match between Southern Italy and upper class England . . . Evocative.
—Margaret Drabble

Her range of talents is astounding. . . [Esmond and Ilia is] glorious.
—Leo Robson, The New Statesman

Talismanic objects—handmade English brogues, nasturtium sandwiches, an Egyptian cigarette tin—prove the perfect springboard for Warner’s superb visual imagination and historical acumen in this fine memoir, which touchingly evokes, in vivid sensual detail, the irreconcilable contradictions in her parents’ lives within the complex postwar cultural milieus they traversed.
—Victoria Nelson