Dara’s Origins

Not everyone will glean from the novel that the matriarch Dara, a fictitious granddaughter of Ferdinand de Lesseps (a French diplomat and developer of the Suez and Panama Canals), has Sephardic roots

Ferdinand de Lesseps
Ferdinand de Lesseps a French       Sephardic Jew

In reading The Path between the Seas, by American historian David Gaub McCullough, it became more apparent to me that one of the reasons the reputation of Ferdinand and Charles de Lesseps was tarnished was due to their Jewish (Sephardic) origins. Édouard Adolphe Drumont, the French propaganda journalist, spread antisemitism via his “elephantine tract” of over 1,000 pages—La France Juive (Jewish France)—at the Universal Exposition of 1889 in France when antisemitism was rare. He claimed that “the sickness of modern France…was [caused by] the nation’s most treacherous human foe..the Jew”. His conspiracy theories of financial thievery by the de Lesseps family led to investigations, distrust, and perpetuated the persecution of Jews throughout Europe.

In 1854, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal across the Isthmus of Suez. With a team of engineers, the Suez Canal Company was formed in 1856. In 1859, construction began and was completed in November 1869. In an attempt to repeat this success, he ventured to build the Panama Canal at sea level during the 1880s, but the project was devastated by epidemics of malaria and yellow fever in the isthmus, as well as beset by financial problems due to unforeseen delays. Consequently, the planned de Lesseps Panama Canal was never completed; and Drumont was partly responsible. Eventually, the project was bought out by the United States, which solved the medical problems and changed the design to a non-sea level canal with locks. It was completed in 1914.

caf926bc1266e33573c44bed4c7fbb9a--belly-dancers-vintage-photography
Vintage Dancer

The Sephardic bonding between Dara and Andres can thus be seen as almost inevitable.

As a reader, only you can imagine what Dara would have looked like at the turn of the 20th century.

A Lost Factoid in History

The U.S. Statue of Liberty was formally presented to the United States by Ferdinand de Lesseps, At a banquet, on June 11, 1884, given in honor of the Franco-American Union, he, as head of that Union, gave the following speech, saying:

This is the result of the devoted enthusiasm, the intelligence and the noblest sentiments which can inspire man. It is great in its conception, great in its execution, great in its proportions; let us hope that it will add, by its moral value, to the memories and sympathies that it is intended to perpetuate. We now transfer to you, Mr. Minister, [Levi P. Morton, the Minister of the United States to France] this great statue and trust that it may forever stand the pledge of friendship between France and the Great Republic of the United States.

 De Lesseps traveled to the United States to speak at the dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, attended by President Grover Cleveland in October 1886.

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