The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn

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The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn Egyptian
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Product Description

For her book The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Lucette Lagnado received the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in 2008. That work offered a heartbreaking portrait of her father, Leon, a successful Cairo boulevardier who was forced to take flight with his family during the rise of the Nasser dictatorship, and of her family’s struggle to rebuild a new life in a new land. In this much-anticipated new memoir, Lagnado tells the story of her mother, Edith, coming of age in a magical old Cairo of dusty alleyways and grand villas inhabited by pashas and their wives. Then Lagnado revisits her own early years in America – first, as a schoolgirl in Brooklyn’s immigrant enclaves, where she dreams of becoming the fearless Mrs. Emma Peel of The Avengers, and later, as an “avenging reporter for some of America’s most prestigious newspapers. Lagnado’s adolescence is further complicated by cancer. Its devastating consequences would rob her of her “arrogant years” – the years defined by an overwhelming sense of possibility, invincibility, and confidence. The author looks to the women sequestered behind the wooden screen of her childhood synagogue, to the young coe3ds at Vassar and Columbia in the 19670s, to her own mother and the women of their past in Cairo, and reflects on their stories as she struggles to make sense of her own choices. Selected Bibliography. B&W photographs. 402p.

Editorial Reviews

Investigative reporter Lagnado (The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World, 2007, etc.) compares her mother's upbringing in Cairo to her own coming-of-age in Brooklyn.

The author is a gifted storyteller who spins ordinary family experiences into enchanting fairy tales, complete with magical backdrops (the streets of Cairo, New York, and Montreal), nasty villains and dashing heroes. For the most part, Lagnado's storybook style is both inviting and endearing. By the end, though, it wears thin. Many human experiences are too complex to be reduced to happy or sad, and Lagnado's determination to cast everyone she encounters as either friend or foe grows irksome. Her descriptions of places, particularly in Egypt, are vivid and evocative, but her perspective is simplistic and her adjectives are limited; people who intimidate her are "formidable," while those she likes are "friendly" and "down-to-earth." Often her tone is unsuited to the situation or event she is describing, rendering the narrative unintentionally funny. Her decision about whether to buy Pappagallo shoes before beginning college at Vassar and whether to withdraw from Vassar sound, in her telling, equally wrenching. Although she and her family suffered genuine tragedy, Lagnado writes as if every choice, no matter how trivial or mundane, were difficult, painful and heavy with significance. It's a delight to read about the author as an impish, spirited child; her eventual transformation into a somber, self-serious adult is an unwelcome surprise. A catatonic stroke victim by the last chapter, Lagnado's brave and brilliant mother emerges as the book's true hero.

Often heavy-handed, but also tender and heartfelt.

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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