Mourning My Arab Spring

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Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn, is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.



What is going to happen to the Arab Spring – no, not that Arab Spring but my own recent awakening and love affair with the Middle East?

I have been gripped by fear since January, watching the uprisings, not knowing how these movements would all shake out, unable to get my arms around them. Lately, fear has been replaced by sadness and melancholy. I feel as if a chapter is ending for me – the chapter of my personal Arab Spring.

In the last couple of years since my memoir, 
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit
, came out, I savored the opportunity to reach distant audiences, but looking back, nothing stirred me as much as my book’s popularity in Egypt.

When I first heard my book was selling briskly in Cairo, I was amazed. Why would a memoir by an Egyptian-Jew about her exiled family resonate in Egypt? Why would Egyptian Moslems or Christians even care about my story?

On a visit to Cairo and the popular Diwan bookshop, a sparkling oasis of Arabic and foreign language books complete with a coffee bar, I spoke to the owner and learned that Sharkskin was in effect a bestseller.

Its owner invited me to do a reading. I still recall the joyous, loving crowd circling around me – elegant women not in veils, debonair gentlemen who seemed to have stepped out of my father’s 1940s Cairo.

Looking out at the crowd I had my own Sally Fields-at-the-Oscars moment: They like me, they really like me, I thought.

After my lecture, young woman, a reporter, came over and said, “You are as Egyptian as I am.”

When my book was published in Arabic, I returned for another reading. This time I stood side by side with my Egyptian publisher at Diwan. I would read a passage, he would read the same passage in Arabic. I have never felt so proud – I was being read in the language of my father.

Posted on September 19, 2011
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