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Escape from Benghazi

Diary of an Impostor

By Elia Meghnagi

Published by Valentine Mitchell, USA, 2021

207 pages, paperback ($34.95 from Amazon)

Reviewed by Jennia Ganit Chodorov

Seldom does one experience the pleasure of opening a new book and being immediately transported into an unknown and largely inaccessible but vibrant cultural and topsy-turvy political world, where everything seems different and new and exciting.

Such was the fascinating experience I had with this immersion into Benghazi in the twentieth century and its Jewish and Arab communities in Libya while under Italian, British and Arab regimes and the upheavals each brought. Libya went from being a country with a large flourishing Jewish community that contributed much to its surroundings to not allowing even one Jew entry.

The author describes in vivid scenography the ever-changing laws and directives under the different regimes that brought about direct threats to his wellbeing and eventually forced him to flee at the tender age of 17, finding refuge in England and being estranged from his family for 10 years.

This is a story of survival while being stateless, depending on the kindness of strangers and compassionate rabbis during ever-changing circumstances.

The book introduces us to an array of interesting characters and details with humor the author's ups and downs as a refugee and a student as well as his urge to thrive eventually as a citizen.

Throughout his journey, clearsighted, ambitious Elia remains steadfast in his faith and adherence to Jewish principles, while incorporating himself into the English work world at British Rail and in an international company which demands he travel constantly. What shines through is his optimism and wonder. His devotion to his parents and siblings is remarkable and ability to meet challenging situations is unique in the steadfastness and character displayed.

When he eventually goes into partnership with his brothers to lead Snowcrest, a kosher food manufacturing company, the story has come full circle. He is also a director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (UK).

A fascinating read, of a unique personality.

 

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