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The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 26, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 227 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

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. Lagnado’s story hinges on her father, "the Captain," who cut a dashing figure in mid-century Cairo, consorting with British officers and Egyptian royalty at French cafés while his family, neglected, stayed home. At first refusing to join the tide of Jews fleeing Egypt under the Nasser regime, the Captain finally yields, in 1963, when the family escapes to Paris and then Brooklyn. Deprived of wealth, status, and any means of coping, Lagnado’s father fades, but he never loses his air of chivalry, manifested in a regular outflow of tiny checks to charitable causes—orphanages, vocational schools, and dowry funds for poor girls—overseas. "As if the Captain were capable of rescuing anyone," his daughter writes.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Lagnado's captivating account of her family's life in cosmopolitan Cairo and painful relocation to America centers on her beloved father. Dashing man-about-town Leon Lagnado, who kept to his carousing ways even after marrying a beautiful women 22 years his junior, was enraptured at the age of 55 by the author, his fourth child; affectionately called Loulou, she became her father's companion, even at temple services and the Nile Hilton bar. But the Suez war in 1956 and the Nasser regime's cultural holocaust began forcing Jews from their native Egypt. Leon's injury in a fall and Loulou's mysterious illness (first diagnosed as cat scratch fever, eventually found to be something far worse) delayed the Lagnados' departure until 1963, when they arrived in New York with $212, the maximum they were allowed to take out of Egypt; and Leon, once a prosperous, independent businessman and investor, was reduced to selling ties on the street. 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. Leber, Michele
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (June 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060822120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060822125
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (227 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Man in the White Sharkskin suite is a stunning work, in it's emotional depth against a period of history I knew little about. The author/narrator tells the story of her family, particularly her father, as they thrive in Egypt under King Farouk, then, literally overnight, lose their material possisions, family and promience but not their humanity and dignity when Nassar comes to power. Their 'before' life was vibrant and full materially, but emotionally fraught with tensions of all sort especially between the husband, Leon and the wife, Edith. The author uses the point of view of the youngest member of the family, Loulou who can barely understand what's happening but acts bravely for her father's sake and for his love. The author writes beautifully, and with such poignancy, but never with self pity or malicious anger regarding the family's fall. By the time the family arrives in America, they are completely lost as they stand on the dock watching the big cars go down the West Side Highway. The great symbol of American prosperity, yet the cars and the dream they represent pass the family by. They never regain the life they longed for, except in the success of Loulou who becomes an award winning journalist and now author. I feel that Leon would be thrilled that, against his advice to this daughter to find a 'little job', she found her calling and restored the family legacy and told the greater story, through the Lagnado saga, of the history of Egyptian Jews of that time.

A wonderful read.
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Format: Paperback
This is my favorite book of the year. It combines all of my interests - Jewish history, family struggles, impact of culture, and so much more. The author spent her early years in Egypt and the family was forced out by anti-semitism. While in Egypt, they lived a glamorous life for many years, but with a father whose moods ranged from loving to abusive. From there they entered a generation of poverty. The writing is beautiful. Too often personal memoirs seem to wane 1/2 way through, but this book continued to engage me and I really didn't want it to end.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was at that reading also, and purchased another copy of the book (my third!) for my daughter. Lagnado's story of her family's incredible history in Egypt and then the heartbreaking exile they endured, ending in Brooklyn where her father, old and seemingly defeated, probably saves her life with one last almost magical invocation of his old powers of persuasion is inspiring and tragic at once. After reading this beautiful book, it's clear where Lagnado's passion as an investigative reporter to expose corruption and the indignities we too often heap upon the elderly was born.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A gripping story. Once I started to read this book, instantly it caught my interest, I could not let it down until I have finished reading the entire book. A deeply moving biography. This book attracts the interest of the American public who is always avid to read about immigration to America. The book does not limit the story on what happened in Cairo Egypt, but also on what happened in America. About half of the book relates the many difficulties and the hard life of the family in Brooklyn New York. In my opinion, the key sentence in the book is what Leon Lagnado the father of the writer, said to the American social worker Sylvia Kirschner: "We are Arab, madame," Leon liked to listen to the songs of the famous female Arabic singer Om Kalthum and once as a handsome young man was her lover. Leon spoke Arabic with his mother Zarifa from Aleppo as with his siblings, and also was proud to wear the tarbouch like king Farouk, the last king of Egypt. According to Joel Benin's book: The dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, and according to Andre Aciman's book: Out of Egypt, the majority of the Jews of Egypt mainly spoke French at home and used a very rudimentary Arabic language in order to carry out basic communications with the servants and the local population in the markets and shops. Leon Lagnado who prayed in Hebrew, spoke English with a perfect British accent with the British army officers in Cairo during WWII, French with his wife and other Jews, was according to his own definition an Arab Jew because he also spoke fluently Arabic (his mother tongue) without any foreign accent, was also able to absorb the native Egyptian mentality or as we say in Arabic: "Ibn balad Asli" and that's precisely what makes this book so attractive to Jews and Arabs readers alike.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Wow, this is an absolute must-read. It is foremost a family saga with an array of captivating characters... but it is also about an overlooked piece of history -- the flight of tens of thousands of Jews from Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s. From Cairo to Paris to Brooklyn... from riches to rags.... I loved this book. I heard the author speak at Barnes & Noble in New York last night and she told a story that was at once personal, moving and mesmerizing. After the reading, the line to buy her book extended around the block -- and I noticed that a lot of people were buying several copies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I was aware of the diasopora of Arab Jews after the establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine , I personally did not know any who actually suffered. I only experienced the suffering of Palestinians because of the same event. This is simply because I was borne in Amman in East Jordan where very few if any Jews lived then or now. This book opened my eyes to the life of Egyptian Jews and other Jews who lived peacefully with their Arab Moslem and Christian neighbors for hundreds of years till the establishement of the State of Israel when it became politically unacceptable for the failed politicians of the Arab states to show courage and protect them. I am not here to incriminate any side in this long saga of Palestine/Israel. I am here to state that Leon the Arab Jew in the White Sharkskin Suit could have been my own father or older brother. He reminded so much of my own people. This story is full of sadness, love and affection and no incrimination. Leon was a casuality of horrible circumstances and like every man of honor tried to manage as much as he can. He kept his pride and spirituality. The story as written by Lou Lou his beloved daughter is also very kind to every one inculding the Arab people who her father was proud to be one of. Congratualtions to Ms Lagnado for a well written story and a very kind account.
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