Rana Sweis

Prose Lays Nightmare of ‘Forever War’

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To classify The Forever War as a work of literature instead of, say, as a piece of "war correspondence," is not to denigrate its journalistic integrity. Dexter Filkins' reporting is as rigorous in this book's informal vignettes and essays as it was when he delivered the daily news from Afghanistan and Iraq for The New York Times.

The Forever War, though, deserves to be considered alongside long-praised and similarly structured modern literary classics such as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street — books that achieved their raw force and nightmarish beauty by mixing elements of fiction and creative nonfiction. That The Forever War is, front to back, a true story, is a testament to Filkins' literary talent and extraordinary accomplishment.

Don't look here for an explanation of "How the war was lost" or even of "How the war reporter's innocence was lost." Filkins, as he notes in his epilogue, writes from the impossibly limiting perspective of one who's Been There. For those who haven't Been There, then, The Forever War's narrator can sometimes come across as inhumanly cold and unlikable. That's because Filkins is incapable of placing himself into a fake, pre-war personality in order to persuade his readers that he's not the Iceman but is, in fact, as outraged with things as they are.

The Forever War - By Dexter Filkins
Hardcover, 384 pages Alfred A. Knopf  List Price: $25

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Students Explore America In ‘Chicago’

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Jerome Scholomoff - Author, dentist and former Egyptian presidential candidate Alaa Al Aswany.

Former Egyptian presidential candidate Alaa Al Aswany is a journalist and the Arab world's best-selling fiction writer. He makes his living as a dentist in Cairo, which affords him an intimate look at the everyday lives of Egyptians — who often inspire his works.

His latest book, Chicago: A Novel, follows several recent Egyptian emigres as they study at the University of Illinois and their professors, who emigrated to the U.S. decades earlier. Al Aswany says he drew from his own experiences as a student at the University of Illinois in the 1980s. And he tells Weekend Edition host Liane Hansen that the experience had a big impact. "I learned something very important in my life in America ... what I call the know-how of success. How do you become a successful person?" Al Aswany says he took this knowledge back to Egypt and applied it to his writing.

Many do not know that chicago is not an English word but rather Algonquian, one of several languages that Native Americans spoke. In that language chicago meant "strong smell." The reason for that designation was that the place occupied by the city today was originally vast fields where the Native Americans grew onions, the strong smell of which gave the place its name. Read More

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