February 2012 Book of the Month
The Arrogant Years by Lucette Lagnado
The second volume of a piercing memoir from Lucette Lagnado, The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn (Ecco/HarperCollins; trade paperback release April 17, 2012) chronicles her Egyptian Jewish family’s struggles, exile, and painful assimilation. Paralleling her father’s story, which she so deftly told in The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit—winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature—Lagnado revisits the household’s story through the eyes of her mother, Edith. From Pashas to paupers, from the alleyways of Cairo to the working class streets of Brooklyn, this epic family saga of faith and fragility showcases Lucette – nicknamed Loulou by her family—as a budding contrarian in her alien New World. She models herself after Emma Peel, the sleek and fearless heroine of the iconic TV show, The Avengers. Her coming-of-age in the turbulent America of the 1960s stands in stark contrast to Edith’s traditional, insular life in the Levant.
About the Author
Born in Cairo, Lucette Lagnado and her family were forced to flee Egypt as refugees when she was a small child, eventually coming to New York. In addition to The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, she is the co-author of Children of the Flames: Dr. Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz, which has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. Joining the Wall Street Journal in 1996, she has received numerous awards and is currently a senior special writer and investigative reporter. She and her husband, Douglas Feiden, live in New York City.
Questions for Thought & Discussion
In this book, we learn about Edith’s coming of age in Cairo, and Lucette’s coming of age in America. Compare and contrast their experiences. Which one do you think had an easier time of it, and why?
The book’s title is drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, referring to the years of great possibility and confidence in a young girl’s life. What experiences shaped your own “arrogant years,” and how did they differ from this of the characters in the book? How did your experiences differ from those of your mother or your daughter?
Lucette writes about her diagnosis of cancer at age 16. How do you think facing a serious illness affects a person’s perspective? How did it affect Lucette’s?
Lucette’s family was forced to flee their home in Egypt as the situation for Jews deteriorated under the leadership of Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser. This scenario has been played out thousands of times in Jewish history. How would you feel if you had to pack up and leave the only home you had ever known? What would you take with you? How do you think you would cope?
Passover is just around the corner. Sit down with your book group and discuss the story of this modern-day exodus from Egypt. Which experiences detailed in the book were similar to those in the Bible, and which were different?
Get your friends together to discuss The Arrogant Years while pickling! According to Jewish Woman’s story Pickled Perfection, “The Jewish love of pickles dates to the ancient world. ‘Throughout recorded history, both the elite and impoverished masses relied on pickles,’ says [Rabbi Gil] Marks, author of Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World, explaining that a wide variety of pickled produce was standard fare in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. While wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites lamented the loss of the cucumbers they enjoyed in Egypt.”
Links & Recommendations
Jewish Woman's review of The Arrogant Years
Jewish Woman’s review of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit
NPR’s interview with Lucette Lagnado
Lucette Lagnado reflects on 2011’s Egyptian revolution in The Jewish Week