Chicago, By Alaa Al Aswany

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The Independent Culture

When The Yacoubian Building snared the affection of readers around the world, it gave Alaa Al Aswany a clout in Egypt denied to other kinds of dissident. For such a sturdy, full-bodied storyteller, this freedom matters.

Towards the close of Chicago (translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab), a viciously satirical scene presents the ageing president of Egypt on an official visit to the US city where Al Aswany spins his web of tales.

He has won the power to land such blows. Chicago weaves its tapestry of tales from a cluster of expat Egyptians and their friends.

Medics, scientists, students, spouses, assimilated baseball buffs and pious veiled postgrads: all grapple with the obstacles that life as an Arab migrant presents in the post-9/11 Windy City.

Each segment of a character's tale closes on a cliffhanger, and the pages turn as if blown by a gale off Lake Michigan.