Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Q&A with author Lucette Lagnado
|Lucette Lagnado, photo by Kathryn Szoka|
Lucette Lagnado, a longtime Wall Street Journal reporter, is the author of two memoirs about her family: The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World, and The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn. She is also the co-author of Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz. She lives in New York.
of your mother, and did you know when you started The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit that you would be writing a second memoir?
A: Complicated answer -- for many years the only book I wanted to do was a memoir of my Egyptian-Jewish family -- I was obsessed with that and worked on a number of drafts. I recall how one day, it must have been father's day seven or eight years ago, I was feeling very blue, very melancholy.
I received a call from an agent, Tracy Brown, who asked to meet with me; he said that he thought that there was a book in my relationship with my father against the backdrop of Egypt; I was absolutely enthralled with the idea; I worked on a proposal that became The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit.
A: As a freshman at Vassar, one of the books I read was F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night; It was a few months after my bout with Hodgkin's Disease, I was feeling very broken very down and out -- a really awful period.
Was very struck by the novel whose heroine Nicole is this promising young girl who gets institutionalized for mental illness; there was a line that even then caught my eye, the line was about how she had lost (two of) the great arrogant years in the life of a pretty girl. And I thought wow, that is me, that is also me. I thought about that line a lot over the years. When it came time to work on this companion memoir I knew that I wanted it to be about personal loss, about what it is like to suffer from a major illness as a young girl; And I thought of that line and decided, that is what I want my book to be called.
Q: What was it about Emma Peel that captured your attention?
A: I loved and adored Emma Peel. She really was my childhood passion, I was obsessed and infatuated. She had all the qualities I wanted to have -- she was of course very stylish and very pretty -- but she was also an amazing intellect, and exceedingly brave -- able to cut down bad guys with karate chops and judo moves. The show, The Avengers, was fascinating to me -- and then there was Mrs. Peel with her gorgeous designer clothes and incredible hairdo but she never used sexuality to get her way; and I liked that too; she was so cerebral. She became an ideal and a role-model. Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say, "an Avenger." What is sad is that I became so different from Mrs. Peel -- oh a part of me is definitely an avenger, down to the stories I try to pursue as a reporter, no question, but I find that I get frightened of so much......
A: I have gotten wonderful responses from the Egyptian and Syrian Jewish community especially about Sharkskin which to them was the more resonant book; everyone it seemed could identify with my Dad and his fall from grace coming to America. I recall an event I had in Ocean Parkway where the community is centered. I came in to an audience of more than 500 people; I was treated like a rock star....I swear....it was utterly extraordinary.....they appreciated the fact that I had told their story....
A: I have been deeply worried about Egypt since the early days of the Revolution nearly two years ago; I had a very bad feeling about it, I didn't share the general euphoria about the toppling of Mubarak; on the contrary I was terribly afraid -- and my fears have come to pass; there we have the Muslim Brotherhood -- God --I have been sickened by the nice press they received; do you remember how major newspapers used to call them "moderates"? Yeah, sure.....
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