In his new novel titled "Chicago", Dr Alaa Al-Aswani was successful in displaying the inner personality of his Egyptian characters. Like his previous novel "Yacobian Building" , "Chicago" made it to the bestsellers list in Egypt. Although the name of the novel is of the famous American city, it mostly portrays the relationship among several Egyptian graduate students studying medicine at the University of Illinois. There are other elements in the story including the American professors and Egyptian American professors who immigrated around the 60s and 70s, with their different views of the American culture, ranging from fully adapting it, to living with it without fully comprehending it.
It took me 3 days to finish the 450 pages novel. I was really glued to its portrayal of the life of Egyptian students abroad especially since I was one of them few years ago. In a way, I can identify similar characters I met during my graduate study years. You get the feeling that the author has spent some time researching the environment -the city of Chicago- and the University itself. However, on recent interview on the famous BBC show Hardtalk Extra, the author revealed that he himself studied there, which explains his excellent description of the place where the story is happening. He was earlier interviewed on National Geographics where he also revealed many sides of his personality.
Reading through, you get a better understanding of the conflict in the main characters' minds. In a way, he is exposing the Egyptian cultural struggle for identity, a struggle that is going on these days all around us, but is more visible when we are exposed to the higher-level western civilization.