Sipping From the Nile by Jean Naggar
Release date: 2012 / 388 pages
Synopsis (from Amazon.com): Born into a prominent, sophisticated Jewish family who spend time in Europe and live in the Middle East, author Jean Naggar’s coming of age memoir tells the story of her protected youth in an exotic multicultural milieu. To Naggar her childhood seemed a magical time that would never come to an end. But in 1956, Egyptian President Nasser’s nationalizing of the Suez Canal set in motion events that would change her life forever. An enchanted way of life suddenly ended by multinational hostilities, her close-knit extended family is soon scattered far and wide.
Review: My favorite way to learn history is through the eyes and lives of those generous enough to share their stories. I read many memoirs out of a curiosity regarding how others spend their time and interpret their experiences. Jean Naggar’s memoir — subtitled “My Exodus from Egypt” — is the best kind of memoir. As a literary agent, Naggar recognizes strong writing and her love of language is evident on every page. After reading these passages from the first chapter, I was not surprised to later learn that she has a particular affinity for poetry:
Sheets of rain slashed down the steep sides of apartment buildings, instantly forming rivers that flowed toward the gutters and pooled along the sidewalk. It was a New York rain, violent and complete, pouring with sudden vigor from a leaden sky.
Memories are strange creatures. They hide in the shadows, lurk in the interstices of life, summoned by a smell, a sound, the expression on someone’s face, the angle of a body, a turn in the road. Phantom passengers as we proceed along our lives, they brush a fleeting touch of the past against our urgent present.
Naggar begins in her present — as a literary agent living in New York, married with three children and numerous grandchildren. But soon she escapes into the past — to her grandfather’s birth in Cairo in 1869 when the Suez Canal was opened — an event that affected so many lives and nations and eventually precipitated Jean’s flight to the U.S. in her early twenties: “I little imagined that the Suez Canal, a historical footnote buried somewhere in the shadows of my subconscious, would emerge, sinuous as the black snake of my childhood, and alter the shape of the future for me and for the Jews of Egypt.”
Naggar takes the reader through each of her grandparent’s lives, as well as the lives of her parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and each story comes to life in a tapestry of privilege and responsibility. The pages of Nile fly by and the reader is able to get a rich sense of Egypt’s history through the fascinating lives of her family.
I am so grateful that Naggar shared her story. I had the privilege of visiting Egypt years ago and now feel much closer to this country after experiencing Naggar’s story.
I’m afraid I will not be giving this book away this week… so clearly I recommend it!