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Mother’s Helper

Lucette Lagnado’s first memoir was dominated by her colorful father. In The Arrogant Years, she plumbs the heartbreaking life of her mother.

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Lucette Lagnado, age 12, with her mother, Edith, at the beach in Brooklyn, 1968.(Courtesy Lagnado Family)

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.]

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Kudos to Julie Subrin and Sara Ivry for yet another engaging, well-produced podcast.

Bryna Weiss says:

I was upset not to be allowed to comment at Marjorie Ingalls piece on the San Francisco cancelled show of Palestinian children’s art, so I’m doing it here.
For God’s sake, Marjorie, you, yourself, give the perfect refutation of your original premise. It is exactly because this hateful, anti_Israel organization was going to present their distorted and one-sided view (by children who are continually taught in schools and on TV and radio, that Jews and Israel are ruthless, hateful, violent people), that it was imperative to stop it from being shown. I do agree that Jewish and Palestinian groups should try to forge a partnership in ways they can show how both sides suffer from this terrible conflict. But Mecca’s show can do only more damage- to both Israeli’s AND Palestinians!


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Mother’s Helper

Lucette Lagnado’s first memoir was dominated by her colorful father. In The Arrogant Years, she plumbs the heartbreaking life of her mother.

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