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*Starred Review* Aswany came to Chicago from Egypt in the late 1980s to attend the University of Illinois. A practicing dentist in Cairo, he became a best-selling novelist with The Yacoubian Building (2002), about the occupants of a Cairo apartment building. In his newest galvanizing novel, he creates another galaxy of lives, this time transforming the medical school at the University of Illinois into a seething microcosm of contentious politics, religious beliefs, and ambitions. Marshaling a magnetic cast of professors, Egyptian émigrés with American wives and children, and Egyptian students on visas and in culture shock, Aswany, using alternating points of view, uncoils a dramatic yet darkly hilarious plot involving imperiled marriages and covert political activity. Neatly smashing any notion of monolithic ethnicity and contrasting extreme ideology with determined morality, Aswany also expresses deep compassion for women, especially in the stories of two lonely, pious students and that of a desperately job-seeking black woman married to a white professor. Brilliant and forthright in his insights into sexuality, racism, and tyranny; empathic in his psychological intensity; and righteous in his protest of covert post-9/11 brutality and injustice, Aswany has written a daring novel of our delusions and dreams, vulnerabilities and strengths.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2008 Booklist
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In this absorbing novel by best-selling Egyptian author Al Aswany (The Yacoubian Building), Egyptian medical students and professors at the University of Illinois Medical School experience various culture clashes and interpersonal problems. Shy and seemingly very religious, Shaymaa finds herself lost in her new life until she begins a relationship with the brilliant but repressed and miserable Tariq. This is the first relationship for each, and the author traces their emotional and sexual trials and failures as the two become closely attached. Another story line concerns a professor whose daughter has taken up with a young American artist and has followed him out of her parents' house and into cocaine addiction and sexual liberation. Egyptian politics and the repressive society under President Mubarak affect the lives of all expatriates, as evidenced by the presence of an older student named Danana, who is actually an agent of the Egyptian security department. Some of the American characters occasionally do and say things that, possibly as a result of the translation, strike discordant notes. Otherwise, the author is a fine, observant storyteller, and there is a warmth and intelligence informing these mostly sad stories. Recommended for larger collections.--Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.