For her mother, giving up that job signaled the end of those “great arrogant years in the life of a pretty girl,” Ms. Lagnado wrote, quoting the line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night” that inspired the title of her book.
“At the tender age of 6, I had become a refugee,” she wrote, “and undertaken a journey most adults would find daunting, from Egypt to France to America.”
Lucette Matalon Lagnado was born on Sept. 19, 1956, in Cairo to Leon Lagnado, a Syrian native who ran a loosely defined import-export business, and Edith (Matalon) Lagnado, a bookworm who had read all of Proust by the time she was 15 and instilled in Loulou, as Lucette was known, a thirst for literature.
Loulou also imagined herself someday becoming a secret agent, a fantasy fed by her father’s mysterious nocturnal jaunts, his boulevardier’s insouciance and his bonhomie with foreign diplomats.
After escaping Egypt in 1962, the family lived briefly in Paris before emigrating to New York. They arrived with 26 suitcases stuffed with ballroom gowns and other fripperies; but, having been allowed to leave Egypt legally with only $212, they started life in America as penniless refugees in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
Relegated to eating in kosher soup kitchens, Ms. Lagnado wrote, they felt alienated as outsiders and homesick, especially during Passover Seders.
“No matter how loudly we sang,” she said, “our holiday had become not a celebration of the exodus from Egypt but the inverse — a longing to return to the place we were supposedly glad to have left.”