The Arrogant Years
From Egypt, with (Complicated) Love
With precision and searing honesty, Lucette Lagnado writes in The Arrogant Years (Ecco) about her torn allegiances as both an Egyptian Jew growing up in America in the 1960s and '70s and the youngest daughter of unhappily married parents. Her haunting 2007 memoir, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, explored the exile of her dashing father, Leon, who fled Cairo as Nasser came to power. Here, Lagnado focuses on her mother, Edith, whose story is at least as tragic, whose relationship with the daughter she called Loulou is even more complex. Having abandoned a prestigious career (as the private librarian to a wealthy Egyptian family) to marry Leon, Edith becomes a passive, resentfully submissive wife. But after the couple and their four children are forced to resettle in America, Edith shows a strong will, finding a job at a Brooklyn library and micromanaging Loulou's education. Yet Edith has no desire to assimilate. She desperately tries to hold her family together "in this post-Cairo exile of ours where there were few standards and we all felt unmoored." Loulou basks in the cosseting of her parents' immigrant community as a child, then pulls away in adolescence. But once successfully integrated into the secular society her parents resisted, Lagnado, a writer at the Wall Street Journal, finds herself nostalgic for her insular childhood—"forever yearning for that sense of absolute protection, that feeling of being watched over and loved."
— Liza Nelson