Editor’s note: Lucette Lagnado died this week at 62. She spoke with Vox Tablet in 2011.
In her best-selling memoir, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, journalist Lucette Lagnado brought to life the multiethnic metropolis of Cairo in the 1940s and 1950s. Lagnado’s father, Leon, a debonair man-about-town, thrived in that cosmopolitan world, and young Lucette basked in his glow. But Egypt’s 1952 revolution changed all that. The family held on for a time, finally immigrating to the United States in 1962, and Lagnado’s book—winner of the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature—arrestingly described her father’s steady decline.
Now she has written a second memoir, The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, that offers a loving and often devastating portrait of her mother and all that she sacrificed to keep her family intact, both in Egypt and in the United States. It also delves into Lagnado’s own painful experiences growing up, first as the daughter of protective Egyptian parents trying to find her way in 1960s America, then as a critically ill teenager (she was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma at 16 and spent the better part of a year undergoing radiation treatments), and, finally, as a young journalist making her way in the world.
Lagnado spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about the high price of American assimilation, the difficulties of writing this book, and the ties that have bonded mothers and daughters in her family together across generations. [Running time: 25:16.]