Chicago Paperback – 22 Jul 2011
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‘Turned his yarn-spinning gifts to a story of Egyptian medics and students in the Windy City.’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent (Book of the Year)
‘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
‘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
'Aswany's strength...is his lovingly detailed characterisation. Beneath the strident political message, "Chicago" is a beautifully observed collection of character studies.'
'"Chicago" contains [an] engaging...and touching mix of personal stories and political commentary...He is a natural storyteller' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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to portray the characters hardships/happinesses.My partner is an Egyptian Dr studying and working here,so this book mirrors alot of truths,about Drs
leaving Egpyt and having to practise overseas.
Pity they changed the cover for the paperback version,as they made it look like a 'Chick lit ' book.
And what a good decision I made! Its set in the present day, the students are all at the University in Chicago studying various post graduate degrees while others are University professors who have emigrated to America and made their lives there. I have heard previous people mention that the characters are not linked in any real way well all I can say is the person clearly didnt bother to read the book! The characters are as follows. An Egyptian girl who wears the headscarf, religious and conservative she is caught between continuing her studies or getting married as most girls in Egypt at the age she has come to are generally married. 2. A young man also of a religious background, obsessed with his studies and with few friends. These 2 are soon to meet and begin a relationship that may have long lasting consequences. 3. A secular Egyptian who is a political activist back home who gets involved with an American Jewish lady and also with the anti Mubarak diaspora abroad. 4. The head of the Egyptian student society, a man obsessed with power who both controls the students abroad and also works for the Egyptian government behind the scene. 5. A University professor who has settled in America and done everything he can to be an "American" Only to have his whole world turned upside down. 6. Another professor who again is having something of a crisis of culture and finally an American professor whose relationship with a young African American woman brings out all what is bad in American society.
The book is political in that its difficult to believe that it got past the censors over in Egypt and also sensitive to the Egyptian characters. The author does an excellent job in exposing the daily human lives of the people of Egypt and giving us non Egyptians a better understanding of them. Some negatives about the book however I found the racism that the professor and his partner suffered slightly exaggerated. I mean I dont live in the US but mixed race couples are common in the UK so I would imagine they are likewise in the US so cant believe that a mixed race couple would be subject to torrents of racist abuse in the streets of Chicago.
Other than that I have to say I enjoyed this book.
The story concerns a group of Egyptian students who have won scolarships to study their scientific speciality in Chicago. Through their eyes the reader can experience the complete shock of arriving in America from Egypt, and how western influences can affect long held patterns of behaviour and beliefs. We meet their tutors and professors, some of whom were also Egyptian but have rejected that country and become US citizens. We also meet the agents of the Egyptian government, determined to carry on oppressing the people it feels are unruly influences, no matter which country they are in...
The overall result is a series of dramas, where young men discover politics and/or love, and older men decide whether they made the right decisions and look for second chances. The female characters are also extremely interesting and include a 'good Islamic girl' led astray by her life alone on campus, and a black American woman whose ghastly experience speaks to the current level of discrimination still practised (if hidden) in the workplaces of the USA.
Without giving too much away, Chicago is full of love, hope, sex, despair, political machinations, brutality, betrayal and -- finally -- optimism. It gave me an insight into how 'our' world might look to an Egyptian, and why some immigrants behave as they do. But more than anything it simply reinforced that we are all much the same, no matter where we come from, and we are all basically a little bit (or a lot) afraid.
If you didn't enjoy The Yacoubian Building then you definitely won't like Chicago. It takes the same themes and builds upon them. Although at times I felt that some of the characters overlapped a little, and I struggled to keep who's who clear in my head, I found it to be both enlightening and engrossing. Also a little unpleasant at times... like life so often is.
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