Friday, October 03, 2008

Egyptian author releases English version of his new novel based in Chicago called "Chicago"

Egyptian author releases English version of his new novel based in Chicago called "Chicago"


Contact: Jane Beirn


The best-selling Arab writer both in the Middle East and abroad, Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany used a Cairo apartment building as the backdrop for his international success, The Yacoubian Building, which brilliantly captured the daily drama and comedy of life in the teeming metropolis on the Nile. For his much-anticipated second novel, CHICAGO (HarperCollins Publishers; October 7, 2008; $25.95), this acclaimed fiction writer and controversial journalist – who despite literary success still practices dentistry in Cairo – shifts the stage to America’s Windy City, where a group of Egyptian émigrés navigate the shifting tides of life in the post 9/11 United States.

The many stories that converge in CHICAGO are set in and around the histology department at the University of Illinois, where Aswany himself studied dentistry in the 1980s. The characters, Muslim and Coptic Egyptians, as well as white and black Americans, all struggle with life’s quotidian demands, confronting issues of love, sex, religion and politics that have great impacts on their lives and aspirations. As their personal choices and interactions often
spiral out of control, the threat of life-altering consequences looms over their every decision.

Shaymaa Muhammadi is a brilliant young woman who has come to America on scholarship to further her medical education. Thirty and unmarried, she is religiously conservative, and appropriately modest in dress and demeanor, which isolates her from the free-wheeling Americans. When she meets a fellow Egyptian, another serious-minded student named Tariq Haseeb, she at first resists his advances. But the sexual chemistry between them proves too great, causing Shaymaa to compromise everything she has been raised to believe. The newest student, Nagi Abd al-Samad is politically suspect to some of the established members of the department, most particularly Ra’fat Thabit, a doctor who has fully assimilated, even marrying an American. But Ra’fat’s perfect world is shattered when he discovers that his daughter is harboring a cocaine addiction.

Another Egyptian married to an American, Muhammad Salah has been in this country for thirty years. Now sixty, Dr. Salah faces a crisis, his marriage has fallen victim to sexual impotence and he wallows in nostalgia for a woman he long ago left behind in Egypt. Ahmad Danana, president of the Egyptian Student Union in America, may be exploiting his student visa in order to remain in the States as an agent for the right wing government back in Cairo. When he clashes with Nagi’s over the new student’s revolutionary beliefs, the conflict may prove more serious than a mere student agreement. Meanwhile, Nagi’s situation is made all the more precarious by the fact that he has found himself a Jewish girlfriend in America. Rounding out the intertwined cast: Karam Doss, a brilliant heart surgeon with liberal politics whose Coptic beliefs stood in the way of his medical career at home; Dr. John Graham, an aging leftist who has found love late in life; and Carol, Graham’s African American girlfriend, who struggles with racism in her frustrating search for a job.

In its twelfth Arabic print run and an immediate bestseller when published in France last year, CHICAGO speaks to both the modern Arab reader and to the non-Arab interested in the ordinary lives of the modern Egyptian. The international edition of Time says Aswany’s “writing tackles the most pressing issues facing Egyptian society today, from dictatorship and corruption to economic inequality and Islamic extremism,” yet at the same time, here is a popular writer who entertains while he informs. The U.S. publication of CHICAGO, in this new English translation by Farouk Abdel Wahab, is sure to cement Alaa Al Aswany’s reputation as one of the most talked about writers on the world literary stage.

About the Author:
Alaa Al Aswany, 50, is the bestselling author of three previous books published in Arabic, including THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING, which was published in English by Harper Perennial and went on to top bestseller lists around the world. It was made into the biggest movie ever in Egypt and premiered in the US at the Tribeca Film Festival. A journalist who writes a controversial opposition column, Al Aswany makes his living as a dentist in Cairo.

# # #
June 9, 2008

Dear Book Review Editor:

The New York Times Magazine recently profiled Alaa al Aswany, the controversial Egyptian journalist and host of one of Cairo’s most talked about literary and political salons, who is also the world’s best-selling Arab-language novelist. Aswany’s first book, The Yacoubian Building, was an international sensation, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in Egypt alone – a country with 50 percent illiteracy – and has been published in more than a dozen foreign languages. Critics and devoted readers have drawn comparisons to Egypt’s great Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz. Yet while Aswany “does share the legendary author’s talents for constructing simple stories about Egyptian life that convey universal truths in defense of human dignity,” Time magazine has said, “[h]is writing tackles the most pressing issues facing Egyptian society today, from dictatorship and corruption to economic inequality and Islamic extremism.”

Already in its twelfth Arabic print run and an immediate bestseller when published in France last year, Aswany’s new novel, CHICAGO, provides a kaleidoscopic view of the lives of Egyptian expatriates in post 9/11 America. The colorful tapestry of interwoven storylines is filled with memorable characters – among them an idealistic medical student with a blonde American girlfriend; a veiled PhD candidate facing the conflict between her upbringing and the Western culture she encounters; an ambitious state security officer cum informant; a university professor nostalgic for the past – whose detail-rich everyday lives come to embody the complex collision between traditional Arab ways and modern American mores. An entertaining storyteller, Aswany has a singular talent for portraying the forces that shape these lives in a subtle, realistic manner, and CHICAGO is unusual in the way it shows us how America is seen from a Middle Eastern perspective.

Despite his global literary status, Aswany still works as a dentist in his native Cairo, an occupation that allows him to hear the stories of the kinds of ordinary Egyptians who populate his books. Indeed, it was the time he spent studying dentistry at the University of Illinois that has provided the core material for CHICAGO. Working on a broad canvas, Aswany keeps his finger firmly on the pulse of the modern Arab experience. “He is read everywhere,” says Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, editor of Al-Mulhaq, the Arab world’s preeminent literary supplement. “The importance of Al Aswany is that he reinvented the popular Egyptian novel.”
In addition to his literary success, The Yacoubian Building was made into a highly successful film starring some of the biggest stars in Arab-language cinema.

HarperCollins is proud to be publishing this illuminating new work by one of world literature’s most impressive and important talents. I hope you agree that CHICAGO merits prominent space in your pages.


Alaa Al Aswany
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: October 7, 2008
Hardcover/$25.95/352 Pages


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