Lucette Lagnado, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was born in Cairo, Egypt. She and her family left Egypt as refugees when she was a small child, an experience that helped shape and inform her critically acclaimed memoir, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World and her latest memoir The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn (Ecco). An in demand speaker, she has spoken at Jewish organizations, temples, universities, conferences, and fundraisers.
A follow-up to The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, The Arrogant Years follows Lagnado during her first years in America. She revisits those beginning years first in Brooklyn, then at Vassar and Columbia, revealing a coming-of-age interrupted by a bout with cancer at age 16. Its devastating consequences would rob her of her ability to have children and of her "arrogant years" - the years defined by their overwhelming sense of possibility, invincibility, and confidence - leaving her with the lonely echo of her own fears and judgment: "I am not woman enough." Lagnado looks to the women sequestered behind the wooden screen at her childhood synagogue, to the young co-eds at Vassar in the 1970s, to her own mother and the women of their past in Cairo, and reflects on their stories as she struggles to heal, to make the leap from girl to woman without the grace and strength of her "arrogant years."
Winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit recreates the majesty and cosmopolitan glamour of Cairo in the years between WWII and Nasser's rise to power. Lagnado's father, Leon, was a boulevardier who bore a striking resemblance to Cary Grant and conducted his business in the elaborate lobby of the Nile Hilton, dressed in his signature white sharkskin suit. Lagnado brings to life the color and culture of Cairo's sidewalk cafes and nightclubs, the markets and the quiet Jewish homes of the ancient city. But with Nasser's nationalization of Egyptian industry, Leon and his family lose everything. As streets are renamed and neighborhoods of their fellow Jews are disbanded, they, too, must make their escape. Packed into 26 suitcases, their jewels hidden in sealed tins of anchovies, Leon and his family depart for any land that will take them. From Cairo to Paris to New York, the poverty and hardships they encounter make a striking contrast to the beauty and comfort of old Cairo. A "riches to rags" inversion of the American dream set against the stunning portraits of three world cities, her memoir offers a grand and sweeping story of family, tradition, tragedy and triumph in their epic exodus from paradise.
Lagnado has received numerous awards for her work at the Wall Street Journal, where she has covered health care for a decade. She has been a finalist or received prizes from, among others, Columbia Journalism School, the University of Missouri, and the University of Southern California. She is also the 2008 recipient of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the largest cash award in the Jewish book world.
In recent years, Lagnado has focused her coverage on hospitals and nursing homes, with a special emphasis on the elderly, the poor, and the uninsured. In 2008, Ms. Lagnado received two awards for her nursing home coverage: The National Press Club Joseph Riley Award for Excellence in Writing on Geriatric Issues, as well as the Jack Newfield Award given by FRIA - Friends and Relatives of the Institutionalized Aged.
Lagnado has also been recognized by the New York Press Club, which gave her its highest award, the Golden Typewriter for Outstanding Public Service, for her investigative work exposing the plight of America's uninsured. She is also the recipient of Columbia University's prestigious Mike Berger Award for her reporting about the elderly residents of the Belnord, a fabled West Side apartment building.
Lagnado is the co-author of Children of the Flames: Dr. Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz, a biography of the Nazi concentration camp doctor and the young children who were the subjects of his medical experiments during World War II. Children of the Flames has been translated into nearly a dozen languages; a Hebrew edition is being published by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Lagnado received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Vassar College where she majored in French literature. She and her husband, Douglas Feiden, a reporter for the Daily News, reside in Sag Harbor and New York City.
Praise for Lucette Lagnado:
"Our students loved Lucette's talk. As one student said, Lucette's talk 'was by far one of the most interesting and interactive convocations I have seen.' Lucette not only gave a great talk, she spent a lot of time with many of our students after the event, talking to them, signing books, and having her picture taken with them. They were thrilled that she was so approachable and down-to-earth; she was engaging and seemed genuinely interested in making a real connection with our students. It meant so much for them to read her book and then have the opportunity to meet with her as a person with whom they could have a real and meaningful conversation."
-- Bill Garvin, Drury University
Praise for The Arrogant Years:
"You don't have to be Jewish to take this entrancing literary ride. It begins peacefully in exotic Egypt, but political turmoil and savage anti-Semitism uproots the family to find refuge in America. Here the author, Lucette Lagnado -- slim little kid, with a vivid imagination and adventurous spirit -- confronts dull male orthodoxy and vapidity, which she overcomes with her own outrageous theology. The Arrogant Years is a lovely book, sad and hilarious by turn, written with love of life, and an enormous affection for language. You will love it too."
-- Malachy McCourt, author of A Monk Swimming
"The poet-philosopher Jews of medieval Spain, the loyal and comfortable Jews of bourgeois Berlin, the dashingly cosmopolitan Jews of . . . Cairo? King Farouk's Egypt as yet another lost and shattered Golden Age? In Lucette Lagnado's startling account of her family's trials, all the old Diaspora images and expectations are subverted and reversed: Jews thrive in the land of the Pharoahs, and languish in the workaday neighborhoods of New York. And yet finally New York does fulfill its promise, in the radiant presence of Lucette Lagnado herself -- and in The Arrogant Years, her moving and unsparingly revelatory second memoir. Here we have honesty as purity of style, and lucidity as burning emotion, and history as an enduring hymn to resilience. "
-- Cynthia Ozick, author of Foreign Bodies and Heir to the Glimmering World
"Lagnado traces her mother's heartbreaking trajectory from the Pasha's library in King Farouk's Cairo to the confines of a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, where she tries to reconstruct her vanished home. If doing so proved impossible for the persevering Edith, Lagnado's memoir, at once an elegy to a parent and to a country, comes close."
-- Dalia Sofer, author of The Septembers of Shiraz
"Lyrical...[Lagnado's] memoir is a fully fleshed, moving re-creation of once-vibrant Jewish communities."
-- Publishers Weekly
"[A] frank and searching chronicle of lost and found dreams... Lagnado is spellbinding and profoundly elucidating in this vividly detailed and far-reaching family memoir of epic adversity and hard-won selfhood."
-- Booklist (starred review)
"[Lagnado] is a gifted storyteller who spins ordinary family experiences into enchanting fairy tales, complete with magical backdrops (the streets of Cairo, New York, and Montreal), nasty villains and dashing heroes... Her descriptions of places, particularly in Egypt, are vivid and evocative... It's a delight to read about the author as an impish, spirited child ... tender and heartfelt."
-- Kirkus Reviews
Praise for The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit:
"Beautifully written...A great personalized telling of Egypt's complicated history in the last half of the 20th century."
-- Fareed Zakaria
"...stunning memoir...a deeply affecting portrait of her family and its journey from war-time Cairo to the New World. Like André Aciman in his now classic memoir, Out of Egypt (1994), she conjures a vanished world with elegiac ardor and uncommon grace, and like Mr. Aciman she calculates the emotional costs of exile with an unsentimental but forgiving eye...Writing in crystalline yet melodious prose, Ms. Lagnado gives us an indelible gallery of family portraits..."
-- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"...many reasons to read this crushing, brilliant book...[Lagnado] so effortlessly captures the characters in her family, and the Egyptian metropolis around them, that the reader may fail to notice the overwhelming research buttressing this story. But then you stumble upon a wonderfully vivid detail...Lagnado is equally adept at maintaining suspense...one final kiss from the Lagnados to their beloved city." -- New York Times Book Review
"This memoir of an Egyptian Jewish family's gradual ruin is told without melodrama by its youngest survivor, now a reporter at the Wall Street Journal."
-- The New Yorker
"The resilient dignity of Lucette's family transcends the fiercest of obstacles."
-- Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Beautifully written . . . rich with history and insight. Wonderful."
-- Oscar Hijuelos, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
"Lagnado's richly textured memoir is a loving tribute to a lost man and a lost culture."
-- Reform Judaism
"Full of emotion and longing, yet never sentimental, this lyrical memoir evokes a cosmopolitan Cairo, with elegant boulevards and beautiful patisseries, where well-dressed customers easily shift from French to Italian to Arabic as they sip their Turkish coffee. [Lagnado's] prose is so graceful and richly detailed that this would be a wonderful summer travelogue. But the world she depicts is no more."
-- Jewish Woman
"...a moving tale of exile...it is the splendid achievement of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit that it does not stop at being the loving evocation of a family that it indubitably is. Ms. Lagnado has also given us a timely and important reminder about the unwillingness of Arab nationalism to tolerate non-Arab communities... full of sentiment, information and wisdom...deeply affecting."
-- Washington Times
"Lagnado gets to the heart of the modern exodus in a way only those who lived it can -- the hurt, the heartbreak and the consequence of callous power. More, though, she gives us the heroics of a family -- and a people -- heaven-bent on being, obstacles be damned."
-- Miami Sun Post
"Lagnado spares nothing in the retelling...in this tender and captivating memoir."
-- The Oregonian (Portland)
"...excellent new memoir... One could praise Ms. Lagnado's book for many things: for her careful charting of her family's unlikely survival in the midst of the turmoil engulfing Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt; for her meticulous re-creation of the broader sociopolitical background of the modern-day Jewish exodus, or for the sheer beauty of her remembrance of Cairo, 'the land of prophets and mystics.' But her innermost achievement is to embody the nostalgia and pain of exile in the figure of her father, Leon..."
-- New York Sun
"Lagnado has written a moving memoir in which, perhaps thanks to her investigative reporter's instincts, she is always present without upstaging her two main characters, her father and mother. Although many of the events of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit took place before she was born, she has so absorbed them into herself that the reader almost forgets she was not there...[a] beautifully written book."
-- Commentary Review
"The voice of the 900,000 Jews who fled the Arab world and whose lives were shattered as a result has always been muted. Their voice was muted as they were being robbed, muted as they boarded ship after ship to places that would never be their home, muted as they cowered before history. But Lagnado's is not a muted voice, and her book is anything but a gentle elegy to a vanished world. Like Elie Wiesel's, this is the story of a crime against Jews but ultimately of a crime against one's father. And yet, to use Lagnado's own words about the Egyptians she wishes to forgive now, this book is itself an eloquent tribute to 'mercy and compassion and tenderness and grace.' A stunning achievement."
-- Andre Aciman, author of Out of Egypt and Call Me By Your Name
"A subtle and eloquent description of fatherly love and a mesmerizing portrait of a man shattered by the immigration experience: his stubborn humility, the palpable but unspoken love for his family, his self consciousness as he walks into a land that is foreign and will remain so. Lagnado links her two disparate worlds beautifully."
-- Marianne Pearl, author of A Mighty Heart
"This book is powerful testimony to the ignored story of thousands of Jews from the Levant who, in the wake of Pan-Arabism, had to leave their homes never to return. In poignant, understated prose, Lagnado, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, conjures Cairo's alluring poise in the years following World War II with a researcher's attention to detail, the emotional intensity of a first-person narrative and a novelist's sympathetic imagination for all forms of human experience."
-- Lilith Magazine
"Lucette Lagnado's new memoir...eloquently portrays an Egyptian Jewish family's decline from affluence in Cairo to welfare status in Brooklyn....Her page-turning memoir re-creating the heady times in Cairo opened my eyes to a completely foreign culture in which the British, Arabs and Jews coexisted before and during the turmoil-ridden years of World War II. The book is written insightfully, objectively and above all with love for her father, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit."
-- El Paso Times
"...enriched by vivid descriptions of exotic Egyptian locales, the fascinating cultural traditions of Cairo's once-vibrant Jewish community, and the political and societal changes that forced her family's exodus. It succeeds especially as a perceptive portrait of her father's complex personality and as a heartfelt elegy to the long-lost Cairo community of her youth."
-- Library Journal
"...captivating... In Lagnado's accomplished hands, this personal account illuminates its places and times, providing indelible individual portraits and illustrating the difficulty of assimilation. An exceptional memoir."
-- Booklist (starred review)