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Book Review: Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt by Jean Naggar

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Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt by Jean Naggar is a memoir of a bygone era. This elegantly written memoir of a close-knit Egyptian Jewish family and the turmoil they encounter during the turbulent 1950s.

Jean Naggar writes her childhood spent in Cairo and England as we all remember our childhood – a magical time in an enchanted world. Surrounded by a large, protective family members of the Cairo elites Ms. Naggar was unaware of the world changing Suez crisis happening practically outside her window.

I originally had this post scheduled for later in the month, but I realized that this book is appropriate for the Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from the land of Egypt as told in the Jewish bible’s book of Exodus.

Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt by Jean Naggar is like listening to an elder relative talks about your family. Ms. Naggar presents life as she knows it, full of vivid detail and eccentric relatives.

In Ms. Naggar’s family it was customary to offer visitors a glass of Nile water to ensure a return visit. Unfortunately for the author’s family, all the glasses of Nile water in the world didn’t help as they were summarily kicked out of Egypt – losing their fortune, home and heirlooms in the process.

While I found the intimate stories and struggles of Ms. Naggar’s family fascinating, I wish there was more historical context and/or cultural/political background about those turbulent times which caused the family to flee. I understand that it might not be an official part of a “memoir” by definition, but I do think it’s important to put these events in context of the times, not just for me but for future Naggar generations as well.

I feel that historical context is especially important because, as a child, the author had a privileged childhood and little contact with the native population. Life in the author’s childhood home was composed of parties and celebrations which were a cause to get the newest fashions from Paris. Vacations were spent on trips to Europe to get away from the oppressive heat – certainly not a typical childhood by any means, albeit a good one.

This lyrical book is well written and full of astonishing memories, but more significantly, it is an important document for the Naggar, Smouha, and Mosseri families for generations to come. The stories are rich and clearly told throughout the book and one day I could only wish to write something similar for my children and feel a sense of deep loss that my grandparents didn’t write their memoirs before they passed.

  • 380 pages
  • Publisher: Stony Creek Press; First Edition edition (October 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0981807909

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format.


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