Chicago: A Novel (P.S.)

Chicago: A Novel (P.S.) - Alaa Al Aswany Alaa Al Aswany’s novel Chicago suffers from a translation that never succeeds in allowing the dialogue to sound anything but that: translated. Speech from the novel’s Egyptian immigrant scholars might be passable if readers expect stiff and awkward phrasing, but the Chicago natives here sound equally stilted. The result isn’t completely unattractive: the overly formal speech allows Al Aswany’s many messages – of American racism toward Arabs and African-Americans, of the conflicts felt by devout Muslims practicing in a primarily Christian nation, of drug addiction, of infidelity, of the competing passions of morality and sensuality – to be approached with a tone of naivety that can, in places, allow these issues to be freshly viewed. The larger problem is that Chicago’s many stories, centered primarily on Egyptian Arabs studying histology at the University of Illinois Medical School, never cohere. The novel is still an enjoyable read, however. In particular, the ending hints at an emotional depth that, while not quite realized in the rest of the novel, feels satisfying nonetheless.