25 August 2011

The Arrogant Years; Lucette Lagnado

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I confess, I'm not sure how the title fits in, except possibly as an indicator of the way the family lived in Cairo versus their lives in America. It doesn't really matter, ultimately, and I enjoyed meeting Lucette's family and learning about her life.

The community I was raised in was an Askenazic survivor community, so reading about the lives of Levantine Jews was a new experience. To be honest, I wish there had been more about those differences (perhaps that's another book?). Lagnado is half-Egyptian and half-Syrian, with different traditions from the Eastern European Jews one hears about as making up the Jewish population of Brooklyn. Until the Egyptian Revolution in the 1960s, the Jews lived in harmony with the Christians and Muslims, even exerting influence on the King. After the revolution, many fled and today one can't really imagine that level of coexistence.

Lucette's stuggles fitting in are numerous. First there's her "fight" for equal rights within her synagogue. At school, she's used to a different educational system and often bored, while in college she's unused to "high prep" culture or the Eastern European Jewish students she meets. The economic poverty the family experienced also distances her from her peers. And then there's the cancer...

Not a memoir in the ordinary sense, The Arrogant Years is more the history of the author's mother. This is a good read, particularly for those who are less aware of the lives of the Cairene Jews and their immigrant experience.

ARC provided by publisher.

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