Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
I admit that until I looked through the Ecco catalog a few months ago, I didn't know who Lucette Lagnado was. I hadn't read her first memoir, and I didn't recognize her name, even though she has won awards for her investigative journalism. But something about the description of her second memoir, The Arrogant Years, called to me. I am so glad I decided to get to know "Loulou" and her mother, Edith, and I know you will be too.
Here is the publisher's summary:
The author of the award-winning The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit—hailed by the New York Times book review as a “crushing, brilliant book”—returns with this, the extraordinary follow-up memoirOne of the strongest reactions I had to Lagnado's memoir was that she is only a year younger than I am, but her American experience of 1964 (when she came to the States) to 1973 (when she went to college) was worlds away from mine. Although I was perfectly aware of Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and in my own Ohio hometown, I was far removed from that life. I had to keep reminding myself that Lagnado and I grew up during the same time period.
In The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Lucette Lagnado offered a heartbreaking portrait of her father, Leon, a successful Cairo boulevardier who was forced to take flight with his family during the rise of the Nasser dictatorship, and of her family’s struggle to rebuild a new life in a new land.
In this much-anticipated new memoir, Lagnado tells the story of her mother, Edith, coming of age in a magical old Cairo of dusty alleyways and grand villas inhabited by pashas and their wives. Then Lagnado revisits her own early years in America—first, as a schoolgirl in Brooklyn’s immigrant enclaves, where she dreams of becoming the fearless Mrs. Emma Peel of The Avengers, and later, as an “avenging” reporter for some of America’s most prestigious newspapers. A stranger growing up in a strange land, when she turns sixteen Lagnado’s adolescence is further complicated by cancer. Its devastating consequences would rob her of her “arrogant years”—the years defined by an overwhelming sense of possibility, invincibility, and confidence. Lagnado looks to the women sequestered behind the wooden screen at her childhood synagogue, to the young coeds at Vassar and Columbia in the 1970s, to her own mother and the women of their past in Cairo, and reflects on their stories as she struggles to make sense of her own choices.
Another fascinating aspect of The Arrogant Years is the juxtaposition of Loulou's childhood with her mother's. Edith grew up in an era, a country, and a community that limited her horizons. As Lagnado wrote: "My mother had led a life of sacrifice." Most women of Edith's generation did, but her sacrifices were particularly harsh. Although Edith was eventually able to pursue some of her dreams, she wanted more for her children, especially her younger daughter, "telling [Loulou] not to be like her, not to give up [her] hopes and ambitions."
Thus. despite arrogant years that were decidedly different from what most American baby boomers and their mothers experienced, Edith and Loulou's stories are, at the end, utterly familiar.
Lagnado's style is personal, and she tells her mother's and her own stories in an easy, approachable manner. I read the entire 400-page memoir in one sitting; it felt as if I were listening to a friend talk about her family.
Here are a couple other opinions:
- Publisher's Weekly concludes: "Her memoir is a fully fleshed, moving re-creation of once-vibrant Jewish communities."
- Donna Seaman, writing for Booklist Online, wrote: "Lagnado is spellbinding and profoundly elucidating in this vividly detailed and far-reaching family memoir of epic adversity and hard-won selfhood."
Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.