Prolific humorist Aaron Zevy returns with his latest collection of tales— a mix of truth and imagination—in Schlepping Across the Nile. Many stories are selected from his previous books.
Zevy’s father, an Ashkenazi Jew (of central European descent), and his mother, a Sephardic Jew (of Spanish/Portuguese descent) were once part of an 80,000 strong Jewish-Egyptian community. They were expelled from Egypt after the 1956 Suez Crisis—the “second exodus,” writes Zevy. Immigrating to Canada, “We were the other Jews,” he jests.
Zevy’s preference for Sephardic customs and food provide fodder for some of his humor. His constant complaining about Ashkenazi food at a Passover Seder becomes the cue for a drinking game among the younger participants.
French, Arabic, English, and Hebrew are used interchangeably in most family dialogue. This polyglot of languages results in farcical misunderstandings. Family reminiscing about a favorite bakery, Home Made Cake, becomes “Om Met Kek” in Zevy’s mind. Upon discovering the name was English, not Arabic, the author becomes the butt of many family jokes.
A poignant entry reminiscing about his recently deceased mother highlights Zevy’s versatility. “Because that is my mother.” “And I will miss her,” he writes with heartfelt emotion.
Zevy’s Seinfeld-esque, self-deprecating humor makes him instantly relatable and charming. The author’s trademark staccato sentences, profanities and punchlines are also used to great effect. For example: “I tell people that the ‘schlepping’ in the title is a nod to my father’s Ashkenaz side. But that’s not really true. I never heard him say it. I just think it’s a funny word.”
Unfortunately, the extensive use of Jewish references may limit the author’s audience. Without an understanding of Judaism’s practices and customs, much of the humor could be lost. Additionally, Zevy fans may be disappointed by the inclusion of stories from previous books, which lose their surprise element on second telling.
Nevertheless, Zevy is masterful with his craft, and readers of any stripe will find droll humor within these pages.