Always From Somewhere Else
Always From Somewhere Else
A Memoir of My Chilean Jewish Father
Publication Date: 11-01-2000
In the tradition of her critically acclaimed memoir of her mother, A Cross and a Star, Marjorie Agosín traces the life story of her father, Moisés Agosín, a doctor, scientist, and classical pianist whose life reflects the lives of so many Jews of his generation, who were destined to be always refugees, always "others"—always from somewhere else.
In the search for her father's origins, Agosín reaches into the past to the story of her grandparents, a tailor and a cigarette maker who met in Odessa in 1890. In their flight from persecution and their search for a better life, Abraham and Rachel Agosín traveled to Istanbul, then briefly to Marseilles, where Moisés is born in the interim between two long sea journeys, "saved from the waters" like the biblical Moses. The family's continuing search for a home brings them at last to Chile—first to the port city of Valparaiso and then to the fertile central valley, to Quillota, "city of churches and avocados," where they find a measure of stability but remain, outsiders.
Moisés Agosín studies in the capital, Santiago, and becomes a medical doctor and a respected research scientist. But decades after his parents' voyages, as Chile falls under the dictatorship of Pinochet, he takes his family on their final journey of exile, to the United States. Here he is once again treated as an outsider—this time, as a refugee from the "Third World." And here Marjorie herself grows up understanding that for her family, life has taken the form of a fragile, incongruous thread, destined to be spent "roaming from country to country, waiting for letters, inventing new languages, remembering distant ones".
Marjorie Agosín weaves stories from the past and reflections from the present into a unique, poetic memoir. Her homage to her father becomes much more than a simple life story; it is a captivating and moving meditation on the boundaries of national and cultural identities, the meanings of exile and home, and the legacies of storytelling, memory, and love.
"In this beautifully composed tribute to the life of her father, Moisés Agosín, an internationally known research scientist, the author first describes the flight of her grandparents, Abraham and Raquel, from the war-ravaged and increasingly anti-Semitic Russia of 1917. They lived as refugees in Istanbul and Marseilles, where Moisés was born, before settling with their three sons in Quillota, Chile. In vivid detail, Agosín contrasts the beauty of the Chilean countryside with the ugliness of the entrenched anti-Semitism that made her father a permanent outsider. . . . Agosín paints a moving portrait of a man who, despite his love for his family, his work, and classical music, was, like herself, marked at the core of his identity as a wandering exile." —Publishers Weekly
"Agosín surpasses just a familial memoir and delivers a stunning written testimony." —Copley News Service
"Marjorie Agosín's transparent and powerful prose, never bitter, makes the reader want to participate in her struggle for justice as well as hope. . . . This is a haunting work of extraordinary grace and depth." —Claribel Alegria, author of Soltando Amarras/Casting Off