Chicago

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.

Reviews of Chicago

  • “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