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Chicago: A Novel Hardcover – October 7, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Egyptian author al Aswany (The Yacoubian Building) weaves a vivid tapestry of clashing cultures in post-9/11 Chicago. Dr. Ra'fat Thabit, an Egyptian-American professor at the University of Illinois Medical School, has burrowed deep into American culture, but finds his identity threatened after his rebellious daughter falls under the sway of a shady boyfriend. Ra'fat's colleague, Dr. Muhammad Shamay, retreats from his American wife into extended reveries of his life in Cairo in the 1970s when he was young and in love with a revolutionary. His histology student, Nagi Abd al-Samad, really wants to be a poet. Nagi begins a relationship with an American girl named Wendy (who just so happens to be Jewish). Meanwhile, Shymaa Muhammadi, a medical student who wears a veil, finds her traditional values under siege when Tariq Haseeb, another Egyptian med student, begins seducing her with dogged persistence. The characters are beautifully realized—Ra'fat's family trouble is especially well done—and though their cumulative effect is muted, each of the story lines is individually compelling. (Oct.)
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*Starred Review* Aswany came to Chicago from Egypt in the late 1980s to attend the University of Illinois. A practicing dentist in Cairo, he became a best-selling novelist with The Yacoubian Building (2002), about the occupants of a Cairo apartment building. In his newest galvanizing novel, he creates another galaxy of lives, this time transforming the medical school at the University of Illinois into a seething microcosm of contentious politics, religious beliefs, and ambitions. Marshaling a magnetic cast of professors, Egyptian émigrés with American wives and children, and Egyptian students on visas and in culture shock, Aswany, using alternating points of view, uncoils a dramatic yet darkly hilarious plot involving imperiled marriages and covert political activity. Neatly smashing any notion of monolithic ethnicity and contrasting extreme ideology with determined morality, Aswany also expresses deep compassion for women, especially in the stories of two lonely, pious students and that of a desperately job-seeking black woman married to a white professor. Brilliant and forthright in his insights into sexuality, racism, and tyranny; empathic in his psychological intensity; and righteous in his protest of covert post-9/11 brutality and injustice, Aswany has written a daring novel of our delusions and dreams, vulnerabilities and strengths. --Donna Seaman
Top customer reviews
Although some figures have funny and ilarious features and some anectodes are very sarcastic, above all there is compassion for the people and for their lifes on the bridge between America and Egypt.
If the sex lives of Al Aswany's characters are not precisely ribald, they are front-and-center in a disproportionate manner for a novel that might have reallocated some of its pages to other pursuits.
The author flirts repeatedly with caricature. Yet this literary sin takes venal rather than cardinal form, restrained as it is by his knowledge of his fictional academics' lives and his evident delight in telling their tales.
CHICAGO is a good novel, not a great one. Its weakness--wooden English--is compensated in part by the heroic effort required for a novelist to write in a second language or a translator to perform his craft in the same direction. Its strength--the endless fascination of the human adventure multiplied by the doubling effect of the immigrant experience--saves the day.