Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

The Year of Living Biblically

The Year of Living Biblically is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. A.J. Jacobs tells the amusing but thought provoking story of the year he spent trying to live, literally, by the rules of the Bible.

Jacobs’ first task is to figure out what those biblical rules are. He struggles to understand how they apply to modern life in general, and to his own life in particular. There are so many rules in the Bible, and many of them are seemingly contradictory.

One of the easiest rules to understand, but one of the most difficult to follow, is the rule against lying. Jacobs struggles to keep even seemingly insignificant lies from escaping his mouth. His attempts are very funny. His battles against coveting and lusting are particularly difficult, since he also works at Esquire magazine.

Jacobs researches numerous Judeo-Christian religious traditions. In the name of his research, he visits an Old Order Amish community, Hasidic Jews, the Creation Museum, and the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. It would be very easy for a gifted writer to ridicule these fundamental believers, but he remains interested and respectful.

While reading this book, I had to laugh out many times. This doesn’t happen so often with me. It’s so rare to find a funny, literate, interesting book. I highly recommend this one!

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Simon & Schuster-2007
Softcover edition-Simon & Schuster-2008

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit

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.

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Ecco-2007
Softcover edition-Harper Perennial-2008

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World (P.S.)

Shanghai Diary

Ursula Bacon’s Shanghai Diary is a fascinating and moving memoir. Bacon relates the story of her family’s life as refugees from Hitler’s Germany. In 1939 Ursula and her parents fled Germany to Shanghai, China, the only port open to Jews. They left a life of wealth and privilege to live in squalor in the “armpit of the world”.

Refreshingly, Bacon makes quite clear that this book is a memoir, not a history. We understand that this is written from her perspective; Ursula is only eleven when this abrupt change takes place.

She describes the struggles her family makes to adjust to their new life. Shanghai is crowded and unsanitary. It is hot and humid in the summer, damp and cold in the winter. Rents are high and food is scarce. Many families live as Ursula’s did-the entire family in one small room. Others are not so fortunate; several families might share a room.

Ursula grows up quickly under these conditions. She continues her schooling at a Sacred Heart Convent School, until the school is forced to close. She gets a job teaching English to the concubines of a Chinese general. She loses friends to disease; she meets her husband.

The family is sustained by their hope of emigrating to America. They follow the news of World War II as best they can. They are thrilled as the Americans began reclaiming Japanese territories. And yet they are terrified as the Americans begin bombing Japanese controlled Shanghai.

This book depicts a brutal, frightening time. And yet the clearest message of the book is of hope and love. In the words of one of Ursula’s fellow refugees: “Go out and make a miracle today, God’s busy, he can’t do it all.”

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Milestone Books 2002
Softcover edition- Hara Publishing Group 2002

Shanghai Diary: A Young Girl’s Journey from Hitler’s Hate to War-Torn China