Here is another book that seemed to jump off the shelf at my local library.
At first, it barely held my attention. However, it soon captivated me as it spans the lost world of Aleppo, Syria in the early 1900's, Cairo, Egypt in the 1940's and 50's, Paris and then the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.
The author delineates many of her family members in great detail. However, it is her father Leon who comes to dominate the family history. A successful businessman in Cairo with lots of clients, flair for trading stocks and an amazing wardrobe, he is constantly on the move with a surplus of energy. It is the night life that he lives for.
" Except for Friday nights, he didn't even bother to stay for supper. If he came back at all after work, it was to go immediately to his room and dress for the evening ahead, an elaborate ritual that he seemed to enjoy almost as much as what the night held in store.
"He was meticulous and more than a little vain. He had assembled a wardrobe made by Cairo's finest tailors in every possible fabric-linen, Egyptian cotton, English tweed, vicuna, along with shirts made of silk imported from India. There were also the sharkskin suits and jackets he favored above all others, especially to wear at night."
"My father was such a habitue of the different establishments, there wasn't a club owner who didn't know him on a first-name basis. If there was a group of British officers--and there invariably was--he would join them at their table, and it didn't matter that he was both an Arab and a Jew. He was really one of them."
The British officers called him Captain Phillips because of his debonair manner and British accent.
Leon marries a woman over 20 years his junior and his life style does not change; he continues his nighttime excursions. Somehow, he finds time to attend daily religious services often times showing up on the heels of his nightlife.
Leon's life changes dramatically after he injures his leg and hip in a fall and he must cut back on his nocturnal activities. He now focuses his attention on his littlest child Loulou, the author of this book.
With the fall of King Farouk and then the rise of the anti-semitic Nasser in the mid-1950's, the Lagnado family led by Leon reluctantly flees a life of comfort in their spacious apartment on Malakah Nazli, a fashionable street in the heart of Cairo.
With all their belongings packed into 26 suitcases and only $200 in their pockets (the maximum money they are allowed) the family flees first to Alexandria, then onto Athens, Genoa, Naples, Marseilles and endures a year-long stay in a run- down neighborhood in Paris (supported by HIAS) before they are given clearance to settle in America.
Once in America, Leon takes a job as a tie salesman selling his wares at subway stations and on Canal Street in Manhattan. Invariably, he takes Loulou with him. He dearly misses Cairo and continues to attend daily services in his neighborhood sometimes staying up to 9 hours praying and reading Psalms and other holy texts.
The family fabric falls apart as the older children move away.
Now we learn that Loulou's childhood illness (originally thought to be cat scratch disease) is diagnosed as Hodgkin's disease and she develops a close relationship with a cancer specialist who helps to nurture her away from the dominance of her parents.
Indeed as her father's and mother's health falter, it is his daughter Lucette (Loulou) who becomes the heroine of the family saga as she learns to adapt to the new American culture.
The book is a great read!