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Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt Paperback – February 14, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 183 customer reviews

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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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1612181414
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612181417
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As it appears that the majority of the four and five star reviews are from people who are making their first and only review, and are either friends or relatives of this author. One five star review is actually posted by a "friend" using the authors handle here at Amazon. What is up with that? And several of the comments on the one star reviews also appear to be suspicious.

That being said, this is one of the most tedious and boring books I've ever read and should have been titled "Dispatches from Egypt by the Rich and Famous". Less than 10% of the "memoir" is devoted to the exodus out of Egypt during the Suez crisis, and during that year or so, the violin lessons continued, more designer dresses created, while this family tries to decide which of their precious possessions can be packed and carried out of the country, while still worrying if their servants would "murder them in their sleep".

There is not one word mentioned in this book about the perils that the ordinary, just trying to survive, Egyptians faced, just page after page of the wonderful food, wonderful clothes, wonderful friends, fancy schools not located in Egypt where this family got the majority of their education. And to add insult to injury, this family's passports were all from Italy.

What a total waste of time and money trying to plow through this book that isn't even written well. It jumps from one decade to another, one relative to another without any rhyme nor reason. Save your time and money on this one.
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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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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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