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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Girl from Cairo: A Memoir by Peggy Hinaekian is the autobiography of an Armenian girl who grew up in exile in a suburb of Cairo known as Heliopolis. Peggy’s family were considered well off by Egyptian standards but her mother was required to jump through all sorts of hoops to keep their true economic status a secret from their friends and neighbors. Peggy’s father was a roguish, but lovable character whose one fatal flaw was his inveterate gambling. His gambling had cost the family dearly and they lived on their wits, especially Peggy’s mother’s wits to hide their true economic downfall. Attending a strict Catholic girl’s school in Heliopolis, Peggy’s lack of knowledge of sexual matters was exposed as she fell desperately in love. Living in Cairo, through WWII, an Egyptian war for independence and war over control of the Suez Canal made for a scary route to adulthood for the young woman. All through the troubles, though, Peggy’s vision for her own future never faltered. She would, she believed, travel to America and make it into movies or as a fashion designer. As the country descended into war over the Suez Canal, it was time for Peggy to leave Egypt and seek her fame and fortune in the big, wide world.
The Girl from Cairo: A Memoir is an interesting story of a different culture and the difficulty of growing up in a country where you not only look different than the majority of the population, but your ideals, mores, and cultural beliefs are in stark contrast to the bulk of the people. Author Peggy Hinaekian did come across at times as incredibly self-absorbed and perhaps even selfish but one has to weigh that against the whole concept of being seen as a foreigner, or an interloper in the country where you were domiciled. Doubtless, the Armenians in Egypt felt they had to look to themselves first and foremost because nobody else would. What struck me the most was the willingness Peggy showed to change direction and often location with little or no planning of how she would survive in a different situation. Her courage and belief in herself were so refreshing for a young woman of this era. I particularly enjoyed her willingness to flout established practices and norms in Egypt. She was a woman who knew her own mind and nobody was going to tell her how she should behave. This is an intriguing coming-of-age in a situation that few of us could imagine, let alone experience. I did enjoy this read and can definitely recommend it.