Chicago: A Novel

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Harper Collins, Oct 6, 2009 - Fiction - 352 pages
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The author of the highly acclaimed The Yacoubian Building returns with a story of love, sex, friendship, hatred, and ambition set in Chicago, with a cast of American and Arab characters achingly human in their desires and needs.

Egyptian and American lives collide on a college campus in post-9/11 Chicago, and crises of identity abound in this extraordinary and eagerly anticipated new novel from Alaa Al Aswany. Among the players are a sixties-style anti-establishment professor whose relationship with a younger African-American woman becomes a moving target for intolerance; a veiled PhD candidate whose belief in the principles of her traditional upbringing is shaken by her exposure to American society; an émigré whose fervent desire to embrace his American identity is tested when he is faced with the issue of his daughter's "honor"; an Egyptian informant who spouts religious doctrines while hankering after money and power; and a dissident student poet who comes to America to finance his literary aspirations but whose experience in Chicago turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Populated by a cast of intriguing, true-to-life characters, Chicago offers an illuminating portrait of America—a complex, often contradictory land in which triumph and failure, opportunity and oppression, licentiousness and tender love, small dramas and big dreams, coexist. Beautifully rendered, Chicago is a powerfully engrossing novel of culture and individuality from one of the most original voices in contemporary world literature.


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I found the journey into the ideas and desires of men and women to be very believable and insightful. I appreciate the care Aswany has put into his characters and the unfolding drama. I also find it very useful in understanding the Egyptian mindset and the political climate as it currently stands. Extremely enjoyable reading and nice end of chapter cliffhangers. While critics decry the use of such a large cast of characters, the care in which each is developed makes them all intimately knowable - I didn't forget who was who or what was happening with them. Some poor reviews I read seemed to be written by those who only read the first few chapters and who had no interest in Middle Eastern affairs. Perhaps my current interest in Middle Eastern people shaded my own viewpoint. However, I am always quick to drop a book that fails to unfold in a creative and insightful fashion. This one kept me hanging on and I finished it over the course of a few days. 


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About the author (2009)

Alaa Al Aswany is the internationally bestselling author of The Yacoubian Building and Chicago. A journalist who writes a controversial opposition column, Al Aswany makes his living as a dentist in Cairo.

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