The Young Alexandrians
Author: Andrew Metaxas (St John's 1987)
Publisher: Black Spring Press
The novel follows a non-linear narrative where events are portrayed out of chronological order. It centres on the seemingly unrequited love between Alexis and Nina, two young Alexandrians who meet in 1956. It concludes, tragically in 2018, with the two protagonists as partners and aid workers in Gaza on the eve of Nakba, or Catastrophe, day just prior to the formal announcement by the US to transfer their Embassy to Jerusalem.
The novel focuses on a group of adolescents who form part of cosmopolitan Alexandria. The tranquillity in their lives is disturbed by Nasser’s speech to nationalise the Canal and the subsequent Suez War. Alexis delves into the origin of the Israel/Palestine conflict, aided by his erudite mum, Mary Mani. His findings lead to the Jewish aspiration and claim for the Holy Land, British Mandate, Balfour Declaration, Jewish emigration, savage internecine conflict, Jewish Paramilitary organisations, ethnic cleansing, the Palestinian refugees and the creation of Israel. Alexis calls this the Palestinian Conundrum and an extensive discussion ensues with his mum, her Jewish friend Joshua Schumann and some school pals. Life in the dying days of colonialism is described through schooling, the scouts, parties and sport.
A Palestinian refugee, Ismail, after a tense meeting with Alexis when they were young, eventually joins his group and is instrumental, years later, in Nina joining the humanitarian effort in the Gaza Strip. Alexis and Nina, following an emotional farewell, leave Alexandria in 1959. In 1996 Nina and Alexis, now a widower, reunite in Athens and become lovers. Nina’s son, Nestor, part of the staff at the Whitehouse, advises the President against the Embassy’s move. Alexis’ daughter, Hermioni, an MP, is trying to persuade the PM to comment strongly against the relocation of the US’s Embassy, alas Brexit talks take priority.
The turbulence between the years spanning the 1967, six-day war and the third Intifada in 2014, is described amidst meetings between Alexis and Nina and Ismail’s relatives in the Strip, including infant Ramzi, their humanitarian work, the schism between Fatah and Hamas, massacres, Hamas’ rockets, IDF’s stranglehold in Gaza, Shin Bet monitoring the lovers’ movements, settlements in Palestine and the failed peace accords. Joshua Schumann having escaped from Alexandria has settled with his family in West Jerusalem. They invite Alexis and Nina and they talk frankly about the Palestinian Conundrum. Alexis, decades later, secretly visits East Jerusalem, is arrested and interrogated by Shin Bet, only to be released after Joshua intervenes. Alexis meets the leader of Hamas in Gaza and has a frank discussion.
The latest school reunion focuses on why Israel prefers the status quo while Alexis, in an invited talk in Cambridge, expounds his solution to the Palestinian Conundrum. Following the assassination of a Hamas operative by Shin Bet, Alexis and Nina are back at the Strip looking for student Ramzi, who is demonstrating at the border. IDF retaliates with tragic consequences as both Alexis and Nina are fatally wounded. But was it all true or was it a nightmarish dream?