26 August 2011

Imprint Friday: The Arrogant Years by Lucette Lagnado

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 memoir

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.
One 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.

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."
To learn more about Lucette Lagnado, follow her on Twitter, visit her Facebook page, or see her author pages on the HarperCollins website.

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.

The Arrogant Years at Powell's
The Arrogant Years at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, September 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061803673


Beth Hoffman 8/26/11, 8:50 AM  

Being a fiction lover, I rarely read memoirs -- maybe one every two years or so. But the way you described the personal style of this one has me intrigued.

Happy weekend, Candace!

Barbara 8/26/11, 9:36 AM  

I like memoirs, especially written by people who have led such a vastly different life than I have. This sounds very good.

Zibilee 8/26/11, 10:32 AM  

I am reading a book that mentions Emma Peel right now as well, so that's pretty cool! I really get a lot out of memoirs and love to live vicariously through them, so I think this one would be really thrilling for me. It sounds like she had a very unusual life, and I wouldn't mind finding out more about it. Great review on this book :)

bermudaonion 8/26/11, 11:26 AM  

I'm not familiar with Lagnado either, but this sounds like a book I must read. I love memoirs and this one sounds fascinating.

Sandy Nawrot 8/26/11, 11:45 AM  

I love memoirs, and 400 pages in one sitting? That is...crazy almost, but very admirable! I wish I could do such a thing. It must be pretty compelling.

BookGeek 8/26/11, 12:11 PM  

I've heard of her first book, but I really don't know much about it or the author. I don't read too many memoirs, but this one does sound interesting.

Margot 8/26/11, 2:36 PM  

You made a great case for reading this book. I do love memoirs so, yes, it's going on my wish list.

TheBookGirl 8/27/11, 6:53 AM  

I read memoirs only ocassionally, but your comments about this one have convinced me that it is something I would really like. Do you think that you will go back and read the The Man in the Sharkskin suit at some point?

JoAnn 8/27/11, 7:45 AM  

This was sounding very promising, then I got to the 400 pages in one sitting part - amazing!! Sounds like a must read.

Kailana 8/27/11, 9:50 AM  

This sounds really good! It is an aspect of non-fiction I don't really read a lot about.

Athira 8/27/11, 9:43 PM  

I haven't heard of this one, but the title is calling me too! I'm glad to see that you recommend it highly!

Booksnyc 8/30/11, 8:26 PM  

Thanks for highlighting this book! It is perfect for the Immigrant Stories Challenge and a memoir to boot - a win-win for me.

Michelle 9/5/11, 2:06 PM  

I'm not much of a memoir reader but this sure does sound interesting. I'm sure it's quite compelling.

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