Julie Hill keeps going back to the city of her birth, Alexandria, Egypt, both literally and figuratively.
Hill, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, spent the first 20 years of her life in the Egyptian city, in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. In her new memoir, called "In the Afternoon Sun: My Alexandria," she describes a cosmopolitan city, rich with culture, which was home to a number of immigrant communities, including her own Greek family.
More than a half-century after she left to attend graduate school in the United States, Hill still feels the pull of her former home. She first went back 25 years after her departure, and has continued to visit the city periodically over the years.
"I go back because I grew up there, I go back because I drank the water of the Nile," she said.
Hill will give a talk and sign copies of her book at an event set for 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 26, at the Rancho Santa Fe Library. The free event is hosted by the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild. Copies of the book will be available for sale.
"In the Afternoon Sun" is Hill's fourth book, which was published last year by the Philippines University Press. The new volume, a memoir, follows three books about her travels to such exotic destinations as Bhutan, Myanmar, India, Ethiopia, Mali and Zimbabwe, and more.
Hill said in the new book, she ventures into the triumphs and challenges of her own life in a way she hasn't done before.
"This is the best-written book because it is also very personal," she said.
Hill's husband of 43 years, Arthur, died 17 years ago, and she only began writing after he passed away. Her first book told of their marriage, and of life in countries around the world during Arthur Hill's career as a diplomat with the United Nations and a staff member of the Ford Foundation.
"It's kept me amused and occupied," she said of her writing. "It's opened a lot of doors."
Hill was born Ioulia Leotsinides in 1936 to parents who had immigrated to Alexandria from Greece. She speaks six languages - French, English, Greek, Italian, Arabic and Farsi. She studied chemistry and physics in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where she met her husband, an Australian. For many years, she worked as an executive for AT&T, traveling extensively in Asia for her job.
In her newest book, she writes about the way each different immigrant community in the Alexandria of her youth, whether Greek, British, Italian or French, had its own customs and institutions, such as schools, churches and festivals.
The book delves into intimate family moments, from the lighthearted times when her mother cooked and baked traditional Greek foods, to fights and controversies. The book also covers the period when Alexandria was bombed during World War II.
"It (the book) echoes the life of the Greek community in a time and space that does not exist anymore," Hill said.
In her memory - and the pages of her book - Alexandria is a lovely, seaside city of about 800,000 residents, some 40 percent of whom were foreigners. Today, the city's population has swelled to more than 5 million, and the landmarks she remembers, such as the Corniche, the picturesque seafront road, are either gone or changed dramatically.
"It is dirty, it is dilapidated, it is filthy," she said of today's Alexandria.
Hill and her family continued to live in Alexandria until 1956, when a new Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, came to power and kicked all the foreigners out.
"There was not even time to cry," Hill said.
Proceeds from Hill's book will go to charity, primarily to the Scripps Research Foundation, where she has served as a board member.
She's already hard at work on her next book, which chronicles a two-year period in the mid-70s when the couple lived in Afghanistan, where her husband was posted by the U.N. This was before the Russian occupation and the rise of the Taliban, she said, when Afghanistan was known more for its pistachio groves and pastures than for bombs and tanks.
"My heart bleeds, reading and seeing on TV what is going on in Afghanistan," she said.
"In the Afternoon Sun" is available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and more.