Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681376448
Pages: 432
Publication Date: April 19, 2022

Esmond and IliaAn Unreliable Memoir

by Marina Warner

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Esmond and Ilia follows Marina Warner’s beautiful, penniless young mother Ilia as she leaves southern Italy in 1945 to travel alone to London. Her husband, an English colonel, is still away in the war in the East as she begins to learn how to be Mrs. Esmond Warner, an Englishwoman.

With diamond rings on her fingers and brogues on her feet, Ilia steps fearlessly into the world of cricket and riding. But, without prospect of work in a bleak, war-ravaged England, Esmond remembers the glorious ease of Cairo during his periods of leave from the desert campaign. There, they start a bookshop, a branch of W. H. Smith’s. But growing resistance to foreign interests, especially British, erupts in the 1952 uprising, and the Cairo Fire burns the city clean.

Evocative and imaginative, at once historical and speculative, this memoir powerfully resurrects the fraught union and unrequited hopes of Warner’s parents. Memory intertwines richly with myth, the river Lethe feeling as real as the Nile. Vivid recollections of Cairo swirl with ever-present dreams of a city where Warner’s parents, friends, and associates are still restlessly wandering.


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.

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.

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