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Windy City: A Novel of Politicsby Scott Simon
Synopses & Reviews
The acclaimed author of the intensely powerful novel Pretty Birds, Scott Simon now gives us a story that is both laugh-out-loud funny and heart-piercing — as sprawling and brawling as Chicago, where politics is a contact sport.
The mayor of Chicago is found in his office late at night, sitting in his boxer shorts, facedown dead in a pizza. The mayor was a hero and a rascal: dynamic, charming, ingenious, corruptible, and a masterly manipulator. The city mourns. But it's discovered that the mayor was murdered — shortly after he may have begun to squeal on some of his colleagues at City Hall. Over the next four days, police race to find the mayor's killer, while the politicians who bemoan his passing scramble for his throne.
At the center is Sundaran "Sunny" Roopini, forty-eight, alderman of the Forty-eighth Ward, and vice-mayor. Sunny is an Indian immigrant, a restaurant owner, and a recent widower. He is getting tired of politics and wants to hold on just long enough to do the best for his two restive teenage daughters. But as acting interim mayor for a few days, Sunny must deal with forty-nine other aldermen who have their own clashing ambitions.
How will Sunny do what's best for both his family and city in a time of crisis?
As The Last Hurrah embodied urban politics for a previous generation, Windy City captures politics in the multiethnic tumult of today's big city, where a stalled subway raises fears of a terrorist attack and smoke-filled rooms are abolished by no-smoking statutes. The story takes a raft of colorful characters — pinky-ringed pols, pious reformers, money-grubbers, and wheeler-dealers of every creed, color, and proclivity — through City Hall corridors, neighborhood restaurants and clubs, weddings, sex scandals, gospel churches, police stations, and sting operations to deliver an ending that is unexpectedly noble.
Windy City is a roller coaster of a novel that dips and soars through the amusement park of politics. With echoes of Primary Colors and Thank You for Smoking, Windy City will win votes as the best political novel in many years. Its personal story — about a flawed, decent man thrust suddenly under hot lights — will also win hearts.
"In his second novel, the host of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition paints a detailed portrait of Chicago politics, beginning with the sudden death of the mayor. The focus quickly shifts to Indian vice-mayor Sunny Roopini, who must assuage a traumatized electorate while laying down a few paving stones for the mayor's successor. Matters are further complicated when the police discover deadly amounts of liquid nicotine on the late mayor's pizza, a revelation that inspires a mayoral staffer to leap from his apartment window. Roopini's brief interim mayorship proves to be a minefield of favors, accommodations and downright extortion — the latter by a U.S. Attorney determined to dig up any ethical hiccup he can. The suffocating political life is enough to beckon Roopini toward retirement (particularly with his two daughters on the cusp of adulthood), but the city doesn't seem willing to let him go. The proceedings can be fascinating, but Simon is too attached to his (admittedly impressive) descriptive powers, dragging the narrative through a swamp of mannerisms, fashion sketches, culinary processes and (especially) political maneuvering. Politics junkies will get off on the detail, but readers with less than a passing interest in the sausage-making that goes on at City Hall may be frustrated." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The Chicago metropolitan area, with a total population of about 9 million people, is now home to more than half a million Mexicans. Another 130,000 residents come from Poland, while 70,000 are originally from India and 60,000 from the Philippines. The metro area also supports significant immigrant populations from Italy, South Korea, Ethiopia, Iran, Guatemala, Nigeria, Syria and who knows how many... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) other far-flung countries of the world. Obviously, to call such a citizenry 'diverse' would be to flirt with massive understatement. But as Scott Simon demonstrates in 'Windy City,' his comic but sneakily affecting novel about Chicago politics, all of these wildly assorted peoples have one thing in common: When their trash isn't picked up or their streets aren't plowed, they don't complain to their imam or their guru or their shaman; they complain to their local alderman. The rich multiculturalism of the American city is not a new phenomenon, and it has hardly gone unnoticed in recent fiction. Rarely, however, has it been depicted with such unabashed affection as in 'Windy City,' a book spacious enough to accommodate a Chinese-Salvadoran wedding, a Baptist church service and a banquet at the Krivas Museum of Lithuanian Civilization. The plot centers on Sundaran 'Sunny' Roopini, the Indian-born alderman from the 48th Ward, who must act as interim mayor when the city's real mayor is found dead in his office, poisoned by a nicotine-laced pizza. No one has any idea who killed the chief executive, who was a charismatic African American dynamo of Rabelaisian appetites. But this proves to be a matter of secondary importance in the novel. More urgent by far, at least to the 50 aldermen who make up the City Council, is the question of who will become the great man's successor. With representatives of so many constituencies competing for power, the political maneuvering soon threatens to get out of hand, and it's all that Sunny Roopini can do to keep City Hall from plunging into outright civil war. Scott Simon (host of NPR's 'Weekend Edition' and author of the novel 'Pretty Birds') is clearly infatuated with Chicago, and the zeal with which he celebrates the city, warts and all, is hard to resist. His book is larded with insider bonus features that hard-core Chicago aficionados will delight in, whether it's a blow-by-blow description of how Mexican chilaquiles are made or a knowing dissertation on the agony of the long Chicago winter. Simon's take on the city's aldermen, whom he describes as 'the comic relief of politics,' is particularly amusing. Relegated to the minor leagues of American government, these intrepid eccentrics nonetheless pursue their traffic lights, community centers and graft opportunities with all the passionate intensity of big-time pols, asserting themselves 'desperately and gracelessly, like ducks trying to make love to a football.' A typical aldermanic philosophy of government? 'You can't be a leader,' one of them insists to a recalcitrant colleague, 'unless you go along with the majority!' 'Windy City' is also well-served by Simon's choice of hero. Interim Mayor Roopini is an immensely appealing figure — witty and unfailingly generous in spirit, despite having recently lost his wife under tragic circumstances. Now the single father of two affectionate but keenly suffering young daughters, Sunny must steer his family through the shoals of grief even as he's trying to do the same for the traumatized city. And if his occasional flights of rhetorical brilliance owe perhaps a bit too much to television's 'The West Wing' — verbal set pieces too clever and elaborate to be credible as spontaneous speech — I hasten to point out that the improbable eloquence of a protagonist is one of the easier flaws in a novel to excuse. Whether one can so readily forgive the implausibility of the book's denouement is another question. In real-world Chicago, after all, the city's warring ethnic and racial factions aren't quite as cooperative as they are in Simon's kinder, gentler version. But comic novels often have something of the fairy tale about them. And 'Windy City,' for all its emphasis on the sausage-factory venality of big-city politics, seems intended mainly as a big, sloppy valentine to the cultural jambalaya that is 21st-century Chicago. The Second City has taken a lot of abuse in its day, from writers as various as Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Norman Mailer and Dave Barry. It's good to see the old place shamelessly flattered for a change. Gary Krist is the author of five books of fiction and the nonfiction narrative 'The White Cascade.' He is currently working on a book about Chicago after World War I." Reviewed by Gary Krist, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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For readers who loved Primary Colors and Thank You for Smoking comes this wise and funny novel of politics — Chicago-style — from NPR anchor and national bestselling author Simon.
About the Author
Scott Simon is the host of NPR's Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. He has reported stories from all fifty states and every continent, covered ten wars, from El Salvador to Iraq, and has won every major award in broadcasting. He is the author of Home and Away, a memoir; Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball; and the novel Pretty Birds. He lives with his wife, Caroline, and their daughters, Elise and Lina.
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