10) Chicago: A Novel – Alaa al Aswany (Fiction)
This was an ARC, and probably not something I would have picked up on my own. The story follows a number of Egyptians as they make their lives in Chicago (and a few Americans, which seems a bit odd, given the novel’s focus on Egyptians in Chicago): from a PhD student whose encounter with American culture forces her to re-evaluate everything she was brought up to believe, to a sixty-year old “Americanized” Egyptian who desires to cut all ties with his former country as he struggles with his own marriage to an American woman.
There are a lot of characters, and sometimes it took me a page or so into each chapter before I remembered who was who. Still, I found most of the character threads interesting – some more than others – and gladly followed their stories. However, this isn’t the kind of book that has, oh what are they calling it these days, a “plot”. There are common threads (Egypt, the university where these people are all based, the impending visit of the Egyptian president), but not a tangible plot line to follow. Now, that’s fine, because it kept me reading until the end…
…whereupon I closed the book and felt like I’d wasted my time. Why? There wasn’t any resolution. The characters’ immediate crises are semi-resolved (or at least there is a hint of a possible resolution in the future), though in several cases we’re left knowing that a character is in either: a) danger or b) despair (ie. their particular crisis resolution doesn’t necessarily bring them any sort of happiness, or it throws them into another problem). I sat there when I finished, angry, because I’d spent all this time getting to know people and care for them, and was then left hanging.
Maybe some people like this kind of ending. I, for one, feel that I wasted a perfectly good Sunday afternoon. If you want to read it, I recommend it on the merit that it’s an intriguing book with interesting people – but be forewarned that you will turn the last page unsatisfied.
Rating: 2.5 coffees out of 5