The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit is an extraordinarily moving and well-written memoir that speaks to the immigrant experience that built America. The focus is on author Lucette Lagnando’s family, particularly her father, Leon. Leon was a prosperous Cairo businessman. A lover of Cairo’s nightlife, Leon did not consider marriage until spying 20 year old Edith at an outdoor cafe in 1943.Within a few weeks, they become engaged, and wed shortly after.
Devout Jews, the Lagnado family lived in harmony with their Moslem and Christian neighbors in a spacious apartment on a bustling Cairo boulevard, Malaka Nazli. The Lagnado family has servants. The children attend the finest schools, and wear the finest clothes, and are often treated to excursions to Cairo’s most renowned cafes and pastry shops. The family vacations each year by the sea, and visits with their extended family are routine.
This magical life ends when Nasser comes to power, and the Jews of Egypt are forced to leave with only whatever clothing they can take-no money, no jewelry, nothing that would help them begin a new life. The family spends a year living in Paris, then comes to New York, all with the assistance of international refugee aid organizations. Eventually, the Lagnado family ended up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, amidst a small community of Egyptian Jews.
Over the years, the different family members react to their new circumstances in different ways. As Leon and Edith age and become more infirm, their children become more distant, and more American. Leon and Edith never really become American.
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit is a love letter to a time gone by, and also a sad and realistic depiction of how immigrants become American. As all traces of their old life disappear, some become stronger, and other are destroyed.
I highly recommend this fine memoir, and look forward to reading more of Lucette Lagnado’s work.
Published in hardcover-Ecco-2007
Softcover edition-Harper Perennial-2008