The novelist Alaa Al Aswany places his emigré characters in post-9/11 Chicago. chicago has 11 ratings and 2 reviews. Meron said: I loved this book! First of all it was amazing reading about the historical context of post 9/11 Americ. Chicago (Arabic: شيكاغو Shīkāgū) is a novel by Egyptian author Alaa-Al- Aswany. Published in Arabic in and in an English translation in The locale.
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Sukhdev Sandhu sinks into a gripping, steamy and occasionally soapy novel from one of Egypts bestselling writers. Ed King reviews Chicago. There are writers and there are storytellers. Alaa Al Aswany is definitely, defiantly, a storyteller.
Lexical obscurities, ambiguities of characterisation, tricksy narrative devices: Instead, his novels, first The Yacoubian Building and now Chicagoteem with stories about rogues, idealists and monsters whose demons, aspirations and corruptions allow a social and political audit of modern Egypt. The multiplicity of those stories is very much to the point: Al Aswany, a committed pluralist, sets his novels in locations ala diverse individuals face the task of living together without ripping out each others’ throats.
It was an apartment block in downtown Cairo in The Yacoubian Building; in Chicago, it’s the campus of the University of Illinois Medical Centre, where the author studied dentistry in the Eighties.
The novel could do with a cast list. Then there are the students: Nagi, whose sympathetically portrayed combination of radical politics and literary dreams must surely be close to Aswain Aswany’s heart; Shaymaa, a high-achieving but sexually gauche student with whom the incorrigibly bumptious general’s son Tariq has fallen in love; Danana, president of the Egyptian Student Union cuicago America, and in the pay of his country’s secret police, who wields his power alaq obnoxious swagger and has managed to bag himself a wife from an affluent family.
To juggle around so many characters, and to make their paths intersect without the novel descending into a soap opera, is a task that Al Aswany takes on with only fitful success.
One storyline – in which an expatriate heart surgeon is asked to return to Egypt to save the life of a patient, who just happens to be the man who failed him at medical college solely on chicao grounds – is especially colourful.
The end of the novel, too, is an cyicago of cliffhangers, bloodletting and melodrama. Long before that, the American characters are short-shrifted, portrayed in general as either racist ignoramuses or, if they’re black or progressively minded, as victims of an enduringly racist and capitalist society.
Al Aswany seems to see the novelist’s role as being close to that of a schoolteacher.
He writes, in the style of a Wikipedia entry by Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky, about the wretched fates of the Native American peoples who once flourished in Chicago.
Sometimes, though, the exchanges of dialogue that he stages, such as that between Nagi and a professor about whether the present-day persecution of Christian Copts azwani motivated by religious or by political concerns, are so passionate and interesting that his pedagogic inclinations don’t grate.
Chicago is striking for the attention chkcago devotes to questions of sexuality. Almost from the start both male and female characters are shown masturbating, watching pornography, or indulging in carnal dreams.
The funniest scene in the book is the encounter between Nagi and a prostitute that ends in mutual disappointment: Sex aswanni used as a metaphor for freedom and control, an experimental zone in which the power dynamics between mostly Egyptian women and mostly Egyptian, mostly quite chauvinistic men can be altered.
Between two worlds
The awsani on women’s pleasure, seen most clearly in a long ode to the cgicago value of using a vibrator, challenges the authority of a patriarch such as Danana, who not only distorts the Koran the more cruelly to lord it over his wife, but is willing to alaaa her out to an Egyptian state torturer. Danana is the most compelling character in the book – a thug and a bully in the tradition of Chicago mobsters like Al Capone, someone who stands out from the swarming cast whose desperate, transforming lives Al Aswany depicts with wit, passion and moral ardour.
This isn’t a novel designed for postcolonial theorists; it’s a rickety but surprisingly forceful engine for social change. Get the best at Telegraph Puzzles.
Review: Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany | Books | The Guardian
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