Sex, money, and politics are the driving forces of society in this new novel from bestselling author Alaa Al Aswany. A medley of Egyptian and American lives collides on the campus of the University of Illinois Medical Center in a post-9/11 Chicago, and crises of identity abound. Among the players are an atheistic anti-establishment American professor of the sixties generation, whose relationship with a younger African-American woman becomes a moving target for intolerance; a veiled Ph.D. candidate whose conviction in the code of her traditional upbringing is shaken by her exposure to American society; an emigre who has fervently embraced his new American identity, but who cannot escape his Egyptian roots when faced with the issue of his daughter's 'honour'; an Egyptian State Security informant who spouts religious doctrines while hankering after money and power; and a dissident student poet who comes to America with the sole aim of financing his literary aspirations, but whose experience in Chicago turns out to be more than he bargained for.This tightly plotted page-turner is set far from the downtown Cairo of Al Aswany's "The Yacoubian Building", but is no less unflinching an examination of contemporary Egyptian lives.
- 139 x 142mm
- 04 May 2009
- HarperCollins Publishers
- London, United Kingdom
- Unabridged edition
"The only Arabic-language novel to have created greater buzz and sell more copies since 'The Yacoubian Building' is Al Aswany's second novel, 'Chicago' ... a rare opportunity to consider the contemporary Egyptian condition." Financial Times 'He examines with warmth, wit and psychological acuity the way in which exile throws a spotlight on the Egyptianess of his characters. Chicago seems destined to repeat the success of 'The Yacoubian Building'. With his vivid characters, warm humour and short snappy scenes, Al Aswany is like an Egyptian Anne Tyler. A Hollywood film of Chicago would not seem out of the question -- were it not for the downbeat ending. For just when things seem to be moving towards a fairy--tale conclusion, Al Aswany throws a huge, cold bucket of realism over the narrative. It speaks much for his integrity and makes Chicago an incomparably richer and stronger novel.' Adam Lively, Sunday Times 'By shifting the location to America al Aswany asks questions of his characters -- all but a handful of whom are Egyptian -- not demanded of those in The Yacoubian Building. To what extent is the immigrant obliged to remain loyal to his or her old country? Can people ever really cast off the identities into which they were born and become fully paid-up members of a new society? In presenting us with the collision of these two standpoints, al Aswany has written a novel that, if nothing else, feels extremely timely.' William Skidelsky, Observer 'Alaa Al Aswany is among the best writers in the Middle East today, a suitable heir to the mantle worn by Naquib Mahfouz, his great predecessor, whose influence is felt on every page. Yet Al Aswany has his own magic. His remarkable gift for narrative momentum sustains Chicago. It reveals a gifted novelist in mid--flight.' Guardian 'Chicago, like The Yacoubian Building, is an enormously good-hearted book.' New Statesman Al Aswany's rich tableaux of everyday lives and devastating social commentary have made him a wildly popular novelist in his native Egypt and the best--selling Arab writer both in the Middle East and abroad...'Chicago' is a powerful indictment of dictatorship and its corrosive effect on human dignity.' Time 'Aswany's novel achieves something surprising, which is to turn great American city into a little Egypt. Aswany's rolling cast of characters and panoramic vision tells us that he wants to investigate the human condition on the largest scale and as in soap operas, he wants to make the spectator feel like part of the family. His book resides firmly within the mainstream of Egyptian fiction, but it is also an unusual and striking post-9/11 American novel.' Chandrahas Choudhury, Scotsman 'His skill in storytelling means that you enjoy reading about even the most unpleasant of the characters and one of the later chapters has such a blood--pumping climax, it should have had a publisher's warning. This is politically charged writing that remembers the essential humanity of its characters.' Tania Ahsan, Metro 'A wonderful storyteller and a cynically astute observer of human folly and frailty.' Francis King, Spectator 'A natural storyteller, the episodic structure lending itself to a series of cliff--hangers worthy of soap opera. A powerful political page--turner.' Amber Pearson, Daily Mail 'Humane and empathetic stuff.' Big Issue 'Diverting robust human comedy.' Evening Standard 'Al Aswany's strength and the quality that has won him such a huge fan base is his lovingly detailed characterisation. His masterstroke in Chicago is to extract his characters from the comfort of their own cultures. Beneath the strident political message, Chicago is, above all, a beautifully observed collection of character studies.' Ed King, Sunday Telegraph 'Chicago contains the same engaging, funny and touch mix of personal stories and political commentary. Chicago, like The Yacoubian Building, is a delightful entertaining novel. He is a natural storyteller, with considerable comic gifts and as with the best fiction, his ear for the tragic and his political passion give his work a sharp and uncomfortable edge.' Caroline Moorhead, Literary Review 'There are writers and there are storytellers. Alaa Al Aswany is definitely, defiantly a storyteller. Lexical obscurities, tricksy narrative devices: all are anathema to this best-selling Egyptian author. Instead, his novels team with stories about rogues, idealists and monsters whose demons, aspirations and corruptions allow a social and political audit of modern Egypt. A rickety but surprisingly forceful engine for social change.' Sukdhev Sandhu, Daily Telegraph 'Al Aswany takes no shortcuts in establishing the moral fundamentals of all their lives. A joyously gripping read.' Tom Adair, Scotland on Sunday 'The beautifully structured narrative allows current issues to emerge, as divided and dissident personalities do battle with difficult realities. Politically sharp and colourfully told, this is an engrossing read about the state of the author's home country seen from a new perspective.' Waterstones Books Quarterly 'Alaa Al Aswany has many of the virtues of good old-fashioned realist novelists.' Michael Gove, Standpoint
About Alaa Al Aswany
Alaa Al Aswany was born in 1957. He is a dentist by profession, and for many years practiced in the Yacoubian Building which was to form the setting for his bestselling novel of the same name. He has written prolifically for Egyptian newspapers on politics, literature and social issues.