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Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1612181414
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612181417
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #429,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Readers will rejoice in this memoir of a Jewish life and culture that, sadly, no longer exists. But even more, this exodus from Egypt is the great American success story, filled with fine vignettes and character studies. Sipping from the Nile is a moving and beautifully written account about how one smart, resilient outsider made her own way.” –Susan Isaacs, author of Past Perfect, Any Place to Hang My Hat, and Compromising Positions

"Jean Naggar’s memoir Sipping from the Nile brings the world of Egypt’s privileged class to us like a Downton Abbey set in Cairo. This is history told with the fluidity of poetry, the sensuality of life, and with empathy that resonates from an extended family determined to survive upheaval." -Emily Rubin, author of Stalina

“An intriguing way of life that no longer exists. Glamorous, exciting, filled with the sophisticated life of a Jewish family living in Europe and the Middle East, Naggar documents times of elegant lifestyles, to the tumultuous struggles of war. The book is beautifully written, with vivid descriptions of homes, meals, glamorous clothing and social events while living in Egypt, later on in England, and finally in New York City. The history of this extended family is a most interesting look at a loving, religious, educated culture. And like every family, there is passionate love and loss, but always there is the undercurrent of delight and an indomitable will to do more than just survive.” -US Review of Books

“In elegant prose and loving details, Jean Naggar has written a poignant memoir of an idyllic childhood in Egypt, her family’s politically fueled exodus from that paradise, and the forging of a new life in America.” –Hilma Wolitzer, author of Summer Reading, The Doctor’s Daughter, and Tunnel of Love

About the Author

Jean Naggar was born in Alexandria, Egypt. She grew up in Cairo and attended the Gezira Preparatory School and the English School in Heliopolis before going to boarding school at Roedean School in Brighton, England. After her family left Egypt following the international Suez crisis, she attended Westfield College at London University and was awarded an honors degree from London University. She later married Serge Naggar and moved to New York City where she established the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. in 1978.

Her poetry has been featured in The Listener and Athanor. She has been published in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Publishers Weekly, The Huffington Post, and Writers Digest. Jean is a member of the International Women's Forum, the Women's Media Group, PEN, and the AAR. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Serge Naggar, and is the mother of three and grandmother of seven.

More About the Author

Jean Naggar was born in Alexandria, Egypt where her mother's parents lived. She grew up in Cairo, attended the Gezira Preparatory School and then The English School in Heliopolis before going to Roedean School in England, for her high school years. The magical world of her childhood as daughter of two prominent Sephardic Jewish families came to a dramatic end in 1956 when Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal and brought about the Suez Crisis that scattered the Jewish population of Egypt. She has recorded this lost world in her memoir, Sipping From the Nile: My Exodus From Egypt.

After graduating from London University Jean (Mosseri) Naggar met and married Serge Naggar, the "boy next door" and followed him to New York City where she has lived ever since. A voracious reader all her life, she wrote poetry which was published in The Listener and Athanor, translated books, and her work was published in the New York Times, the Village Voice and Publishers Weekly.

In 1978 she founded the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency (see was responsible for bringing many iconic writers to the attention of the reading public, happily sharing her reading passions with the world. She is a former president of AAR and has been sought after as a speaker at events around the US. Mother of three adult children and grandmother of seven, she is at last exploring her childhood dream: to write.

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Customer Reviews

I could not finish this book.
The masterful skill of giving a detailed yet not verbose description were what drew me into the book even more being that I have an appreciation for good writing.
Leah Kohen
To read SIPPING FROM THE NILE, Jean Naggar's lavish memoir of her Cairo childhood, is to be transported to another world, another time.
NYC Reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Mary Luddy on October 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've never been to Egypt or even read much about it, but I feel as if I just returned from a guided tour of a fascinating place in a fascinating time. The combination of page-turning narrative and lovely writing made it difficult to put the book down. The descriptions and the sense of place are truly lessons in the craft of writing. Jean Naggar skillfully connects me to her world, dropping me into a foreign country and immediately making me feel at home. Her specific memories connect me to my own past: as she learns to swim, I relive my own swimming lessons on a Southern California beach far from her beach. She often elicits such memories, subtly revealing that despite how different our physical worlds might be, people are alike on many basic levels, especially as children discovering life. The combination of bringing us into both the writer's world and the reader's own seems to me to one of the main purposes of writing, and one of the most difficult, even though Jean Naggar makes it look easy. Surely one day the world will understand how connected we all are; narratives such as this are a step in that direction.

The title comes from the tradition that if you sip from the Nile before leaving, you will one day return. I love the final two lines: "The past is never gone. It is the foundation on which we build the present, every day of our lives." How perfectly they tie into those first words, the title, since being transported into that time is indeed sipping from the Nile. Jean Naggar leaves us with the hope that we will always be able to revisit the past through memory, enriching our present with each sip.
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166 of 205 people found the following review helpful By Reader on October 3, 2009
Format: Paperback
The writer is the daughter of descendants of two of the most prominent Jewish families in pre-1956 Egypt: her father is a Mosseri from Cairo, her mother is a Smouha from Alexandria. Hence the strength and the weakness of the book.

On the one hand, the book offers the reader an outline of the history and the achievements of these prominent families and a glimpse into the conditions in which they lived.

On the other hand, at least the first half of the book is an excruciatingly detailed account of the privileges that these families enjoyed: very large houses in Cairo and Alexandria, summer vacations in Switzerland, boarding schools in England, etc, etc. This is all fine and amusing, but only if the author shows any empathy towards the ordinary Egyptians that her family lived amongst. Any at all.

This self-absorption and total lack of compassion is singular given the hardships that her own family exprienced in the 1950's when things went totally wrong. I would have thought that the deprivation that at least some of her relatives came to experience post-1956 would have made her understand the anti-European feelings of many Egyptians pre-1956 that eventually lead to the personal tragedies that took place.

I do not condone what happened in the 1950's, and I am not saying that any of it was excusable. In fact, I firmly believe that too many innocent people, including the writer and her family, were treated very badly and suffered totally unnecessarily. I only wished to read any indication of understanding of the reasons why things went wrong and/or an acknowledgement of the fact that ordinary Egyptians were discriminated against and had the right to be resentful.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Little Sister on October 6, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An engaging and informative book, Jean Naggar's Sipping from the Nile offers the pleasures both of a historical novel and of a mémoire. It presents her life as she remembers it, dense with extraordinarily vivid details of architecture, cuisine, clothes, furnishings, rich interiors redolent with her own childhood memories. But it is also a detailed portrayal of a tempestuous period in the history of the Middle East in general and Egypt in particular. Her personal story covers approximately two decades, the 40s and 50s, with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1956 a landmark and a caesura. But by introducing parents, aunts and uncles, grand parents and great grand parents she traces the family's presence in Cairo back to 1750 and their earlier history back to the 15th century when Spain expelled its Jews in 1492. She has created her own remembrance of things past including the tastes and smells of spices in traditional dishes. The reader can touch and taste and smell what is evoked in these pages and share the author's vivid sense of loss. Read and savor and enjoy!
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Vanessa R. Schwartz on August 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
With an easy and honest style, Jean Naggar recounts her early life of privilege in her multi-generational home on the banks on the Nile. A house full of servants from different nations does not belie the need for the occasional arrival of the snake charmer to seduce the reptiles into a basket and out of their hiding places all over the sumptuous mansion. Naggar, the child of two of Egypt's most prominent Jewish families, chronicles what would be the childhood of the last generation to be raised in the part of the world that for one side of the family dated back to Biblical times and on the other, hundreds of years. A wonderful memoir in and of itself and an important reminder of the displacement of Jews from all over the Middle East during the course of the twentieth century.
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