الجمعة، 2 مارس 2007

"Chicago": The new novel by Dr. Alaa Al-Aswani

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.

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Egypeter يقول...

Very intersting.

Chicago is where I have been born and raised and University of Illinois is the school where my brother and sister graduated - I went to Purdue University. He speaks fondly of Chicago and that brought a big smile to my face.

I would love to read this book. Do you know if it is available in English?

It is really amazing to see the difference in people who were educated abroad as compared to those who do not have that opportunity. I wish every Egyptian had the means to spend part of their schooling in America and then return to Egypt.

Did you study in the States?

Nah·det Masr يقول...


Thanks for your comment.

I do agree with you that exchange brings a lot of benefits, and that's how Mohammed Ali created the modern Egypt! by sending 1000 students to learn in Europe; and the returnees were the ones who created the golden age of Egypt 200 years ago, including Qassem Amin, Rafa'a Tahtawi, Ali Mubarak, etc..

We need another round now!

To answer your question about stuyding in the US, yes I did study in the US during the late nineties. I also visited Chicago in 2001 to attend a conference there, it is a lovely city.

Egypeter يقول...

Well, that's nice of you to say and Chicago is quite wonderful (I wouldn't live anywhere else), but if you were to see the freezing weather, snow and wind right now outside you might change your mind - spring will be here soon.

And that's an interesting point about Mohammed Ali that I didn't now. Too bad we can't find more leaders like him. You would be quite an interesting person to sit down and have an ehwa with! If you ever make it back to Chicago you would have to let me know, I know all the best Egyptian spots!

It seems like most of the my Egyptian blogofriends have some sort of experience with the U.S./west. And most of the ones I disagree with have never left the country. I do not mean for that to sound arrogant as I know that many Egyptians are struggling to find food, but it's basically true.

That basically means to me that the Egyptian Educational system must be reformed.

*Not all of your readers read Arabic so, umm, english min'fadlak :)

الزعيـمة يقول...

so good ,
i spent the same period to finish reading this novel,
it was v.intersting.

all characters of egyption
remind me who we met in our live

the conflict appeared clearly .

Altho i Admired Nage abd-alsmd character .
i hate Dnana so much but regrettably this Model person Became more than we know

Nah·det Masr
best regards

Nah·det Masr يقول...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Za'yma,

I totally agree with you on the characters, I definetly despize Dnana, and sympathize with Nagy. I also understand the character of Prof. Ra'fat who had lost his daughter for an overdoze. You know, I have seen the very same characters of Shayma'a and her boyfriend when I was studying abroad! that shows you how realistic the story is.

omas يقول...

i finished it just in one day,..but not coz i liked it,...on the contrary i didn't like it @ all....!!!!!

i guess i'm the odd one here ,..but i really was disgusted with his awful descriptions for unimportant issues,...!!

some ppl say that's how novels work,...& these details r for the sake of the story,....but i believe not,...some pages,..some chapters could b removed without affecting the novel ,...it could b much much better ,...!!!

that's my own POV...!!

with respect :)

Nah·det Masr يقول...


Thanks for the comment, I respect of course your opinion. I think however that the sections you are refering to are the ones he speaks of the sexual lives of the main characters. I think it is vital to represent real life in its entriety. Sex is an important part of our lives, it's the motive for most people to succsseed in life, it is the main reason men get married in Egypt, and wars have been waged because of sex! remeber the Eliade! so I don't think that representing this crucial part of human life is not relevant to the story or should make anyone disgusted! it's simply true representation of real life.

omas يقول...

mayb it can b real somehow & it's really disgusting ....!!!
but u know just think about the novel again ,...u may feel what i said,..some chapters r totally useless ,..some detailed descriptions could have been less without affecting the story @ all,...some crucial & real issues could have been discussed & could have taken more time & pages instead of making complete chapters about almost nth ....!!!

that's my POV & surely i respect others' coz after all that's y it's called POINT OF VIEW...!!


Sevan يقول...

Dear Nah.det mars,

I have just finished reading "Chicago" what an amazing, wonderful novel, its very unique and keeps you thinking all day long about the characters, and you cant wait till the sun goes down, you finish work, run home to finish the novel. It took me so long, since I couldnt find the book here in Kuwait, so during my trip to Dubai I managed to buy it. I loved it so much specially because my first friend was egyptian, and my family and I have very close Egyptian friends for over 30 years now.

However, as my habit after finishing a novel I like, I started searching articles and comments publiched about the novel, and I couldn't stop reading the comments written here about "Chicago", and I was pretty much impressed by your comments, the way you think and your point of you, thats why I wanted to appreciate it, and express how glad I am that there are people at this time who think this way, and appreciate Literature :)

غير معرف يقول...

Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please email me.