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The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit
Cover of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit
My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World
Borrow Borrow

“Poignant . . . deeply personal . . . an indelible history of the largely forgotten Jews of Egypt . . . ”

—Miami Herald

In vivid and graceful prose, Lucette Lagnado re-creates the majesty and cosmopolitan glamour of Cairo in the years before Gamal Abdel Nasser's rise to power. With Nasser's nationalization of Egyptian industry, her father, Leon, a boulevardier who conducted business in his white sharkskin suit, loses everything, and departs with the family for any land that will take them. The poverty and hardships they encounter in their flight from Cairo to Paris to New York are strikingly juxtaposed against the beauty and comforts of the lives they left behind.

An inversion of the American dream set against the stunning portraits of three world cities, Lucette Lagnado's memoir offers a grand and sweeping story of faith, tradition, tragedy, and triumph.

“Poignant . . . deeply personal . . . an indelible history of the largely forgotten Jews of Egypt . . . ”

—Miami Herald

In vivid and graceful prose, Lucette Lagnado re-creates the majesty and cosmopolitan glamour of Cairo in the years before Gamal Abdel Nasser's rise to power. With Nasser's nationalization of Egyptian industry, her father, Leon, a boulevardier who conducted business in his white sharkskin suit, loses everything, and departs with the family for any land that will take them. The poverty and hardships they encounter in their flight from Cairo to Paris to New York are strikingly juxtaposed against the beauty and comforts of the lives they left behind.

An inversion of the American dream set against the stunning portraits of three world cities, Lucette Lagnado's memoir offers a grand and sweeping story of faith, tradition, tragedy, and triumph.

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Copies-
  • Available:
    1
  • Library copies:
    1
Levels-
  • ATOS:
  • Lexile:
    1170
  • Interest Level:
  • Text Difficulty:
    8 - 9

Recommended for you

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    The Days and Nights of the Captain

    On the first Thursday night of every month, Cairo grew completely still as every man, from the pashas in their palaces to the fellahin in their hovels, huddled by the radio and motioned to their wives and children not to disturb them. It was the night when Om Kalsoum, the Nightingale of the Nile, the greatest singer Egypt had ever known, broadcast live from a theater in the Ezbekeya section, her voice so transcendent and evocative that her fans could picture exactly how she looked as she came out onto the stage, enveloped in the lush white lace dress that softened and transformed her features.

    This daughter of a village sheik had a cult following—porters and potentates, the intellectual elite and the illiterate masses, the beggars and the king—especially the king. But the most passionate audience for her songs about lost love and unrequited love and love forsaken weren't starry-eyed housewives but their husbands and brothers and grown sons.

    To them, she was simply al-Sitt, the Lady.

    She'd begin promptly at nine, fluttering her white voile handkerchief this way and that. Since each of her songs could last half an hour or more, her concerts went on well past midnight. "In the Name of Love," "What Is Left for Me?" "Tomorrow, I Leave," or her poignant classic "Ana Fintezarak"—"I Am Waiting for You"—they had heard these songs a thousand times, yet they still found them enrapturing, especially the verses that she would repeat over and over, each time with a slightly different inflection, a varied tempo, a changed mood.

    It was the only night my father didn't leave the house or even his chair. He'd sit as close as possible to the radio, unable to pull himself away.

    In the years before he met Edith, my father led the life of a consummate bachelor. He was rarely home, and when he left the apartment on Malaka Nazli Street he shared with his mother, Zarifa, and his young nephew, Salomone, it was not to return till dawn. His womanizing was the stuff of legend, as much a part of his mystique as his white suits, and there were countless other women before my mother, including, some whispered, the Diva.

    Except for Friday nights, he didn't even bother to stay for supper. If he came back at all after work, it was to go immediately to his room and dress for the evening ahead, an elaborate ritual that he seemed to enjoy almost as much as what the night held in store.

    He was meticulous and more than a little vain. He had assembled a wardrobe made by Cairo's finest tailors in every possible fabric—linen, Egyptian cotton, English tweed, vicuna, along with shirts made of silk imported from India. There were also the sharkskin suits and jackets he favored above all others, especially to wear at night. These were carefully hung in a corner of the closet, and if the local macwengi, or presser, dared to bring back a pair of trousers without the crease or fold exactly so, Leon would berate him and make him redo the job.

    He always wore a diamond ring, and for the evening, he would add a tie clip in the shape of a horseshoe. White gold, encrusted with several diamonds, the clip was his good-luck talisman, and like all men who enjoy the shuffle of a deck of cards and the spin of the roulette wheel, my father was a firm believer in lucky charms.

    His final act was to dab the eau de cologne Arlette on his hands and neck and temple. It was a popular, locally made aftershave with a fresh citrusy scent that conjured the Mediterranean. Long after he'd left, the house still bore what the Egyptians would call, in their characteristic mixture of French and Arabic, le zeft du citron—the waft of lemon.

    As he went out, Salomone, my...

About the Author-
  • Born in Cairo, Lucette Lagnado and her family were forced to flee Egypt as refugees when she was a small child, eventually coming to New York. She was the author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, for which she received the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in 2008, and is the coauthor of Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz, which has been translated into nearly a dozen foreign languages. Joining the Wall Street Journal in 1996, she received numerous awards and was a senior special writer and investigative reporter. She died in 2019.

Reviews-
  • Fareed Zakaria

    "Beautifully written.... A great personalized telling of Egypt's complicated history in the last half of the 20th century."

  • Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

    "Like André Aciman...she conjures a vanished world with elegiac ardor and uncommon grace."

  • New York Times Book Review

    "[A] crushing, brilliant book...one final kiss from the Lagnados to their beloved city."

  • The New Yorker

    "This memoir of an Egyptian Jewish family's gradual ruin is told without melodrama by its youngest survivor."

  • Los Angeles Times Book Review

    "The resilient dignity of Lucette's family transcends the fiercest of obstacles."

  • Miami Sun Post

    "Lagnado gets to the heart of the modern exodus in a way only those who lived it can."

  • Booklist (starred review)

    "Captivating...illuminates its places and times, providing indelible individual portraits...An exceptional memoir."

  • New York Sun

    "Excellent new memoir... One could praise Ms. Lagnado's book for many things."

  • Jewish Woman

    "Full of emotion and longing, yet never sentimental, this lyrical memoir evokes a cosmopolitan Cairo."

  • The Oregonian (Portland)

    "Lagnado spares nothing in the retelling...in this tender and captivating memoir."

  • Library Journal

    "It succeeds especially as a... heartfelt elegy to the long-lost Cairo community of her youth."

  • Kirkus Reviews

    "Nostalgic but objectively tempered portrait of a family at the heart of social and cultural upheaval."

  • Oscar Hijuelos, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of THE MAMBO KINGS PLAY SONGS OF LOVE

    "Beautifully written . . . rich with history and insight. Wonderful."

  • Andre Aciman, author of OUT OF EGYPT and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

    "A stunning achievement."

  • Marianne Pearl, author of A MIGHTY HEART

    "A subtle and eloquent description of fatherly love and a mesmerizing portrait of a man shattered by the immigration experience."

  • Reform Judaism

    "Lagnado's richly textured memoir is a loving tribute to a lost man and a lost culture."

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    HarperCollins
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My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World
Lucette Lagnado
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