He received an M. Aswany pursued dentistry and writing with equal fervour. He developed an interest in literature and culture early in life when his father allowed him to attend his literary gatherings. As a student, Aswany wrote short stories, plays, and newspaper articles dealing with politics and literary criticism. His father, however, strongly discouraged him from pursuing a career as a full-time writer.

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New characters, especially in the first half of the novel, are introduced at almost too-rapid intervals, and too many of them are not fully brought to life. Instead, they are merely used to represent an idea or dilemma, which can then be clashed with another. The sex scenes, viewed as faintly scandalous back in Egypt, will also strike western readers as timid to the point of being faintly embarrassing. Nevertheless, Chicago is worth reading as a rare opportunity to consider the contemporary Egyptian condition.

Bradley, Financial Times "Irgendwie zerfleddert der Roman zu einem szenischen Archipelago, geraten allzu viele der Charaktere zu holzschnittartigen Karikaturen, was der doppelten ideologischen Speerspitze des Buches geschuldet sein mag. This is a shrewdly conceived novel: by isolating his Egyptians in an alien culture, Al Aswany finds the pressure points in their personalities, as each undergoes cultural traumas of one kind or another.

His captivating voice can sound muffled. Still, this gossipy banquet of human folly and nobility never lacks relish. Al-Aswany has an instinctive sympathy for underdogs of any description Chicago takes a level-headed view of even his own politics. On American ground, Chicago is not as sure-footed. The awkward prose is sometimes fitting" - Rachel Aspden, New Statesman "Al Aswany writes about his Egyptian characters with charm, gentle humor and genuine conviction.

Ultimately, Al Aswany is interested less in verisimilitude than in exploring big themes: social injustice, racial oppression, government corruption. In presenting us with the collision of these two standpoints, al Aswany has written a novel that, if nothing else, feels extremely timely. The book suggests there is no real possibility of successfully transcending the cultural divide; national identities are fixed and impermeable.

By depicting America in such a caricatured way, al Aswany makes the gulf between Islam and the West seem even wider than it is. Dentist that he still is, he sets to work with the high-powered drill of an exceptional talent to reveal the abscess at the root of Egyptian society. At his best al-Aswani resembles Somerset Maugham in being both a wonderful storyteller and a cynically astute observer of human folly and frailty. His undistinguished style receives little burnish from his translator Farouk Abdel Wahab" - Francis King, The Spectator "The specifically American strands especially the story of an ageing s radical and his younger black girlfriend are its weakest links.

Chicago is above all a book about Egypt. As such it is quite brilliant, and should be required reading for the hundreds of thousands of British tourists who step off the plane to soak up sun and ancient history without knowing what goes on under the surface of that deeply troubled and unhappy country. Lexical obscurities, ambiguities of characterisation, tricksy narrative devices: all are anathema to this best-selling Egyptian author. The political plots are interspersed with tender tales of unexpected love and emotional liberation while chapters never fail to end with an intriguing cliff-hanger.

Despite this, Chicago is a much less comfortable read. His masterstroke in Chicago is to extract his characters from the comfort of their own cultures. In exile their personalities are stripped of all the legitimising props; their self-deceiving fantasies, prejudices and limitations are laid bare. Beneath the strident political message, Chicago is, above all, a beautifully observed collection of character studies.

Al Aswany is more daring here: in the last third of the novel, a visit by President Mubarak to the students in Chicago is effectively satirized. Most of all, the sexual element is so persistent as to seem pathological. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole.

We acknowledge and remind and warn you that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure. Indeed, in taking his characters out of their native environment he is able to focus on Egyptian issues and ways particularly well. As in The Yacoubian Building Aswany juggles a number of fates, presenting their ups and downs in short chapters which tend to leave the reader dangling until he returns to them a few chapters later.

The issues covered in the personal problems of the character include everything from the treatment of the Coptic minority in Egypt which forced one character to abandon the career he originally had hoped to pursue and the expectations of female virtue outside of marriage to the long reach of the Egyptian secret police.

Political allegiance and connexions still overwhelm merit, though Chicago does offer enough distance to allow some of the characters more leeway. Particularly interesting are the older characters, in some cases completely Americanized -- and yet still not free of their Egyptian roots.

The soap-opera plot includes one doctor losing his daughter to drug addiction, but everywhere sex is one of the big problems including in that case, where, of course, it was the bohemian artist-boyfriend that introduced the lass to hard drugs. Aswany does not shy away from sex.

There are also several break-ups here, and sex -- often of the forced, or at least coerced variety -- plays a role in some of them as well. Unfortunately, too, the sex descriptions are generally of the very cringe-inducing sort: "He pressed the breasts out of the bra as if they were two ripe fruit hanging on a branch", etc.

Political activism also crops up repeatedly, from the cruelly powerful representatives of the government who try to pressure all into quiet obeisance to those who look for opportunities to oppose the Egyptian powers that be. One doctor still regrets having failed even to take futile steps decades earlier, while one student now takes some risks in trying to at least send a message to the present-day regime.

Still, despite there being considerable complaints about the current situation in Egypt, the political activism is rather limited and quaint -- a signed protest they want to deliver to the president is about as challenging as it gets.

There are some nice zingers against current Egyptian conditions, including: "Did I call you at a convenient time? Working here just means showing up.

We always have extra time. Life inAmerica, Nagi, is like American fruit: shiny and appetizing on the outside, but tasteless. In fact, so much of the American detail he offers, from his cartoon Chicago to faculty meetings to decide whether a student should be admitted or not "Anyone who fulfills the requirements of the department is entitled to enroll" is definitely not the rule of thumb for the limited spots in American graduate school science departments , is so wrong -- and exactly wrong in the way one might expect an author who had read about a foreign country but never visited it to get it -- that one has to suspect that Aswany who has studied in America is actually writing down to his Egyptian audience, meeting their expectations of America -- this is how they imagine it -- rather than trying to present an accurate picture of it.

Aswany spins a decent story, most of the way, and he spins and juggles quite a few here.


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Shelves: for-harper-collins Its a bit appalling that I havent written about Chicago by now, because I actually finished it a while ago. My reluctance to write has nothing to do with my impression of the book, because I must say, I really liked it - more than I expected to. Not in a I cant part with this book sort of way, but I really did enjoy it. I read some reviews of the book after finishing it and was disappointed to see that it averaged about 3 stars. Come on, people.


Alaa Al Aswany

Al-Aswany was born on 26 May His mother, Zainab, came from an aristocratic family; her uncle was a Pasha and Minister of Education before the Egyptian Revolution of Al-Aswany married his first wife in his early twenties, she was a dentist, and they had their son Seif, they divorced later. When he was 37, he married Eman Taymoor and they had two daughters, Mai and Nada. Then, he wrote a weekly article in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk.

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