Non­fic­tion

Sip­ping from the Nile: My Exo­dus from Egypt

Jean Nag­gar
  • Review
By – January 2, 2014

Jews cel­e­brate the Exo­dus from Egypt every Passover. Jean Nag­gar, whose Jew­ish family’s Egypt­ian roots go back hun­dreds of years, expe­ri­enced her own per­son­al forced exodus.

Sip­ping from the Nile is a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten, painstak­ing­ly doc­u­ment­ed, and fas­ci­nat­ing account of a family’s life, his­to­ry, and even­tu­al exile. Nag­gar lov­ing­ly recre­ates a cul­ture and time that no longer exist.

The Mosseri bank­ing fam­i­ly lives a priv­i­leged and cul­tured life on the banks of the Nile. Their impos­ing man­sion and grounds, and their own syn­a­gogue, are attend­ed to by a cadre of ser­vants. Their wealth brings them excel­lent edu­ca­tions, con­tacts, and pres­tige. They are an inte­gral part of Egypt­ian soci­ety and move freely in aris­to­crat­ic and diplo­mat­ic circles.

Nag­gar chron­i­cles the refined lives of her large extend­ed fam­i­ly with great detail and lov­ing mem­o­ries. Her par­ents pro­vide the clois­tered and shy Jean with a gen­teel, safe, and gal­lant world. She recounts the tra­di­tions, cus­toms, hol­i­days, and foods of her child­hood and describes her ear­ly and grow­ing inter­est in writ­ing, lit­er­a­ture, and music. Her mem­o­ries are most inter­est­ing as she dis­clos­es her dreams, hopes, fears, and her search for her own iden­ti­ty. We get a peek into old-style Euro­pean grand tours as she describes how the Mosseris trav­elled exten­sive­ly and expen­sive­ly, expe­ri­enc­ing renowned hotels and restau­rants, pri­vate dress­mak­ers, and the finest stores.

The mul­ti­tude of pho­tographs through­out the book add depth, under­stand­ing, and famil­iar­i­ty to the peo­ple and places that gave mean­ing to Naggar’s life.

The uncer­tain­ty and dead­ly fears expe­ri­enced dur­ing 1956, the year of the Suez Canal cri­sis, are vivid­ly pre­sent­ed. It is the year every­thing changes in Jean’s life. It is the year most of the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion leaves or is forced to leave Egypt. Nag­gar pow­er­ful­ly con­veys the upheaval, ter­ror, and dread of the unknown as her fam­i­ly strug­gles for visas and assis­tance to escape their homeland.

Sip­ping from the Nile presents a pos­i­tive mod­el of rebirth and sur­vival. Nag­gar mar­ries, moves to New York, launch­es a suc­cess­ful lit­er­ary agency, and has a fam­i­ly. She even revis­its her native Egypt, where she finds the land­scape for­ev­er changed. Genealog­i­cal Trees, his­tor­i­cal time­line, pho­tographs, read­ers’ guide.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has long coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Record­ingSec­re­tary. She cur­rent­ly holds the post of Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor. She has vol­un­teered at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions