Windy City

( 36 )


In a novel as brawling and boisterous as Chicago itself, Scott Simon delivers a tale both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply moving, capturing the multiethnic tumult of big city politics.

The mayor of Chicago is found in his office late at night, murdered, facedown in a pizza. As police race to find the killer, the interim mayor, Sundaran “Sunny” Roopini, tries to juggle his responsibilities as a recently widowed father of two teenage daughters while herding his forty-nine fellow ...

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Windy City

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In a novel as brawling and boisterous as Chicago itself, Scott Simon delivers a tale both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply moving, capturing the multiethnic tumult of big city politics.

The mayor of Chicago is found in his office late at night, murdered, facedown in a pizza. As police race to find the killer, the interim mayor, Sundaran “Sunny” Roopini, tries to juggle his responsibilities as a recently widowed father of two teenage daughters while herding his forty-nine fellow city aldermen toward choosing a new mayor. Over the course of four days, this raft of colorful characters–heroes, rascals, and pinky-ringed pols of all creeds, colors, and proclivities–will clash, as Sunny, a flawed but decent man, tries to hold together his family and his city.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Delectable… Offers an insider’s view of the kind of urban political fray–albeit fictional–that Barack Obama emerged from as an Illinois state legislator representing Chicago’s South Side…. Windy City’s articulate and witty protagonist … must juggle dirty secrets and deal making…”—USA Today

“Comic but sneakily affecting… The rich multiculturalism of the American city is not a new phenomenon… rarely, however, has it been depicted with such unabashed affection... The zeal with which he celebrates the city, warts and all, is hard to resist.. Simon’s choice of hero…is an immensely appealing figure.”—Washington Post Book World

“Pitch-perfect… Scott Simon, NPR host, knows his way around politics… His dialogue throws off sparks and shrieks like a Chicago El-car…Recommended to all political junkies.”—Roanoke Times, Virginia

“Entertaining and well-observed… renders the inner workings of City Hall with wit and aplomb….Some of Simon’s Chicagoans may be con artists, crooks, amoral opportunists or blowhards, sometimes all of the above, but the author still treats them with great affection and respect, creating an impressively large and diverse cast of characters”—Chicago Tribune

“[A] great novel… filled with emotional turmoil, gritty political decisions, murders, homicide attempts, a suicide and even a touch of romance…[a] human and fully realized portrait of the people caught up in contemporary public life.”
–Time Out Chicago

“[A] big-hearted bear-hug of a novel… embracing roots and family, eccentricities and failings, and dappled with the sights, sounds and grit of the Windy City–makes this an energizing and loving contemporary urban fable.”—GO Magazine, AirTran Airways

“A rather sentimental, positive picture of the democratic process.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Windy City is funny and tender… full of boisterous love for the sport of politics and Chicago.  The best political novel in years.”—Christopher Buckley, author of Boomsday and Thank You for Smoking  

Gary Krist
…comic but sneakily affecting novel about Chicago politics…[Simon] 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…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.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In his second novel, the host of National Public Radio's Weekend Editionpaints 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. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Horse-trading and headcounts consume Chicago's aldermen as they choose a successor to their murdered mayor in NPR host Simon's second novel (Pretty Birds, 2005). The African-American mayor has been found dead at his desk. This opening inevitably revives memories of Harold Washington, Chicago's only black mayor, also found dead at his desk, in 1987, from a heart attack. However, Simon has added a twist: His mayor has been poisoned. Somebody sprinkled nicotine distillate on the mayor's pizza. Perhaps sensing that crime writing is not his forte, Simon moves the investigation to the back burner; this is not a whodunit. Sunny Roopini, the protagonist, has been sworn in as acting interim mayor. The 48-year-old Sunny, the mayor's protege, is an immigrant from India. He has two teenage daughters; his wife was recently gunned down at a currency exchange (she was an innocent bystander). Old trouper that he is, the genial Sunny continues the glad handing he has perfected during his years on the council. His ward is one of the city's most diverse, and Sunny is the very model of a multicultural alderman; he has even added Italian dishes to the menu at the Indian restaurant he owns. Food matters here; the characters plough their way through a heap of ethnic specialties. Ethnicity matters too, in this city of 100 languages. But there is no racial animosity: In Simon's Chicago, there's good-humored accommodation. This makes the competition among the 50 aldermen to become the next mayor about as exciting as a pillow fight. Simon's attempts to whip up some excitement are lame; one leading contender has been filmed taking a bribe (he acquits himself honorably), another confesses to having had sex with twomale cops, part of his security detail. The climax is an interminable roll-call vote. Simon's boring trivialization of Chicago politics is a major disappointment after the phenomenally good Pretty Birds.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Watching this year's election, as exciting and historic as it's sometimes been, you could be forgiven for concluding that politics is rote: candidates give the same speech, use the same carefully selected clichés, and appear alongside the same glossy placards and crisp, bright flags. But the hyper-professionalized campaign obscures the fact that 99.9 percent of politics takes place not on national stages but in ward offices, state assemblies, and community school board meetings where there are many political ideologies, strange conspiracy theories, and eccentric obsessions as there are voters. Democracy is the ultimate amateur's game, and its messy strangeness is what makes the rough and tumble of self governance so endlessly fascinating, enlightening and, yes, entertaining. And this is why, now as the campaign reaches its spring doldrums you might want to turn to Windy City, an entertaining fictional chronicle of murder and political intrigue in Chicago written by NPR host and journalist Scott Simon. While the book is perhaps a bit too cartoonish, it certainly isn't drab.

The book opens with the tragic death of the city's beloved black mayor: a larger-than-life, loquacious, polysyllabic, and gluttonous bachelor, clearly modeled on the late Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor. In Simon's alternate world, the mayor drops dead while feasting on his nightly pie of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Police quickly ascertain that the midnight repast was poisoned and the mayor a victim of foul play, not merely his capacious appetite. Sundaran Roopini, a middle-aged Indian immigrant, restaurateur, widower, and alderman from the city's North Side, finds himself roused at 3 a.m. and summoned to City Hall, where he is told the news and sworn in as the city's interim mayor. The novel follows Roopini over the next three days as he negotiates a pitched battle among several aldermen to succeed the mayor, an assassination investigation, and the memorialization of a beloved leader. Roopini, nicknamed Sunny and mistaken for an Italian because of the vowel that ends his surname, is a winning character: sharp, liberal, but decidedly non-idealistic. "A campaign promise is like shouting out 'I love you' during orgasm," he says. "You mean it. You mean it absolutely in that moment. But any adult should know that you might not be able to mean it next week." But for all his wit, Roopini is a tragic figure. The father of two teenage daughters, he continues to mourn the murder of his beloved wife, shot dead a year earlier in a senseless stick-up at a money exchange across the street from the Indian restaurant he runs. So palpable is his grief that those around him "assign each bulge and wrinkle" on his once-boyish, now weathered face "to his tragedy."

In following Roopini from Lithuanian beer house to West Side black church to Chinese banquet hall, Simon ably conjures the polyglot patchwork quilt of ethnic Chicago with its balkanized neighborhoods, local pride, and warring factions. (Simon's particularly adept at depicting the Windy City through its food. Somehow the gustatory always prompts his best writing, like his description of a Loop buffet where they "carved corn beef thin enough to read baseball scores through the slice.") He also gives a fairly accurate picture of something rarely delivered in either fiction or film -- the day-to-day mechanics of the life of a non–prime time politician. At a community zoning meeting in his ward, the sleep-deprived Sunny (now interim mayor for a few days but unable to extricate himself from attending the meeting) fights to keep his eyes open as the room spirals toward chaos:

"Look how developers leveled lower Manhattan!"

"Developers!" gasped Floyd Porteus, who ran a stationery shop and newsstand on Sheridan Road. "That was terrorism!"

"By the U.S. government!" shouted several people from their seats..."The FBI and Enron wanted to suck the American people into war. Just like Pearl Harbor!"

"That's nuts!"

"You don't know that Roosevelt planned Pearl Harbor?...Then you're nuts."

Having covered zoning meetings in the real-life 48th Ward, I can say with confidence this is only slightly exaggerated.

Add to meetings like this the wedding banquets and fundraisers, the vote counting and forced bonhomie between colleagues and the general truck-and-barter of favors and influence and jobs, and you begin to understand why politicians are always so eager to move up the ladder. "You're a gifted politician," the local U.S. attorney says to Sunny at one point. "I wonder why you've spent all this time in the minor leagues." After 20 years in politics, Roopini is contemplating getting out of the minor leagues -- either by retiring from politics and opening a new, more upscale restaurant or running for Congress. But we get the sense that for all his arm's-length irony (and self-loathing in the wake of his wife's death), Sunny actually likes the unapologetic weirdness and rough edges of salt-of-the-earth ordinary working people that politicians like himself spend most of their time with. Explaining why he loves election night he says, "There's something majestic about it. For a few hours, everything that self-important people hope is in the hands of a lot of people who fill coffee mugs."

But while Chicago's political and culinary delights come across in all their charm and unpretension, the book can also be treacly and grating. In his earnest attempt to conjure the colorful world of Chicago politics, Simon often slips into caricature: a militant black alderman from the South Side brandishes a gun on the council floor to demonstrate the insufficient security, a grizzled Greek alderman is discovered having an affair with both (!) the male cops on his security detail. The dialogue, of which there is quite a bit, is often mannered and over-thought. And when he's not showing off his wit through his characters, Simon's often heading straight through tenderness into sentimentality. At a wedding banquet for his niece, Alderman John Wu says, "Here, sometimes you got to scream to be heard. But you get to scream, loud as you like. I think we have the best of both here -- Chinese people and American freedom. This city gets cold. But it's great." Roopini follows up just a few pages later with his own toast to the young couple, in which he invokes the "brave giddiness in suddenly realizing that two people who began on opposite sides of the world can come to this great, vast, churning place and find that in all of the important ways, they are from the same family tree."

The problem isn't that these sentiments aren't true; it's that they're so baldly and repeatedly stated by the characters throughout the book. More problematically, they also push out the cruelty, pettiness, and real ugliness that politics can often engender. Every conflict is a bit too good-natured. One recalls the real-life Harold Washington, who was opposed by a bloc of white aldermen with such unwavering viciousness that his years in office came to be known as Council Wars.

But I'm willing to forgive nearly all of these flaws, if for no other reason than Simon's evident affection for Chicago comes through so thoroughly. And I will pay him this compliment: reading the book made me long to be back in the City of Big Shoulders, braving the cold in a bar, drinking an Old Style or eating Polish sausage and some deep-dish pizza while talking about the Bears and whichever local pol had the misfortune of having just been indicted. --Christopher Hayes

Christopher Hayes is Washington Editor of The Nation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812976694
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/14/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 787,541
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 5.20 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott Simon

Scott Simon is the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. He has reported stories from all fifty states and every continent, and has won every major award in broadcasting. He is the author of the memoir Home and Away, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball, and the novels Windy City and Pretty Birds. He lives with his wife, Caroline, and their daughters, Elise and Lina.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 38

Matt Martinez had not changed from the blue leather service jacket he had worn to preside at the booking of Clifford Meadows in a holding cell on south State Street twelve hours earlier. The creak of his jacket’s blue sleeves in the cold had irritated him for at least the last four hours. The chief felt gray, as if his skin had grown a top layer of scales. Sunny surrendered his own chair, and the police chief sat down heavily.

“God’s Good Earth Warriors,” he began. “They are—I don’t know. Activists. Concerned citizens. Militants. Terrorists. Shits. Shits,” he finally pronounced.

“They say they wanted to dramatize the dangers of unknown substances creeping into food supplies. So they slipped a toxic substance into the mayor’s food supply. The mayor? He was just unlucky enough to be a target of opportunity. If Meadows had met a monk with the Dalai Lama, or Oprah’s hairstylist, there might have been a different victim. Claudia McCarthy stopped in for coffee every morning when she got off the Brown Line. Men notice her, right? Meadows worked behind the counter, and he noticed her. Noticed that she used soymilk. Found out—maybe he overheard—that she worked for the mayor. His mind began to work. I mean, if you’re going to penetrate the mayor’s inner circle, what better way than Claudia?”

Matt Martinez finally took off his checker-brimmed hat and laid it in his lap. He quickly ran his fingers through his hair to lift it from his scalp.

“Between all the frothing and sprinkling, Claudia told Meadows about the mayor’s routines. His habits. His appetites. She didn’t realize it, of course. She was just making conversation. Maybe trying to impress Meadows a little with her job. Meadows probably didn’t have to ask very much. After a while, Claudia realized that they never went to his place. He said it was being renovated. He said he had roommates. He said he had dirty dishes. He never answered his phone. He said it was his brother, and they didn’t get along. Which seems to be true, by the way. After a while, Claudia figured out that she was being used. She just thought it was in the traditional manner. Six weeks ago, she stopped seeing him. By then, Meadows had gotten all he wanted. All the information that was necessary to plant the poison and kill the mayor to make . . .” Chief Martinez fairly spat the last words, “their point.”

Arty Agras was the first alderman to speak. His words were slow, and tinged with incomprehension, as if he were trying to read words in a book in a dream.

“So, Matt. The people who killed the mayor. They—they’re—orgasmic food nuts?”

Linas Slavinskas caught Sunny’s eye. They both fought down grins. Chief Martinez ignored, or didn’t catch, Arty’s phrasing.

“What did you expect, alderman? Mafiosi? Hit teams from the KGB? Nuts do the job just fine.”

Vera Barrow had reached over to see some of the sheets from police reports.

“They’re protesting transgenic life forms,” she reported with a rare tone of wonder.

“What the hell,” said Daryl Lloyd. “Martians?”

“Scientists putting fish genes in tomatoes,” the chief explained. “Genes from a flounder being put in tomatoes to keep them from freezing. Rat genes being put into cattle so that cows reproduce like rats.”

“What the hell?” said Fred Sandoval. “Here? Not on Mars? Not even California? I never heard . . .”

“Now you will,” said Sunny. “For a couple of days. These people are against it.”

Arty stood up from the table. He began to take short, stumbling, teetering steps, like a clubbed boxer trying to stagger to the ropes.

“Christ, I think I am, too. Fish crap in tomatoes!” said Arty. “What the hell, what the hell. But Sunny, what did the mayor have to do with that? How could anyone possibly think that something like this helps whatever the hell they’re for or against? Killing a good man . . .” Soft, fat tears began to bubble in Arty’s eyes. “A man who looked his enemies in the face.” Yes, thought Sunny. Only his friends had to worry. “It’s indecent. It’s stupid. It’s barbaric.”

Sunny let silence take over the room. They heard a lone cry from a late-night elevated train, the click of a door nearby and low, muttering voices of police shifts coming and going as clock hands began sweeping up toward midnight. Sunny rose and put his arms around Arty and guided him into a seat.

“That’s what they count on, my friend,” he said gently. “That’s what they believe in. Nothing gets attention like a shot, a blast, a satchel going off in the subway. People don’t have to know what you stand for, just what you’re willing to do. Are you willing to rig bombs in a school? Drop a rocket on a hospital? Strap a bomb to your guts on the bus? Fly head first into a city? That’s what makes a mark. That’s how thugs make smart people cower. Blow up babies, behead bystanders, send old ladies crawling, and little girls screaming and crying like sirens—that’s when crowns change heads, talking heads blather, and armies march. How does something as drab as politics compete? And the way we behave—why should anyone think that politics could even change a man’s socks? So people try to capture history with a single shot, a draught of poison, or stealing planes in the sky. Politics? Ridiculous. You might as well throw pebbles under a train. How tiresome. How compromising. How square.”

Sunny settled Arty into a seat, and Vera Barrow took his hands. Arty began to shudder, like a small boy with blue lips, wet beside a swimming pool. Linas Slavinskas rose and put his hands on Arty’s shoulders. Sunny turned around to the chief of police.

“Thank you, Matt. Chief. Let’s take a moment, aldermen,” he said. “I have a couple of short notes to write. Then let’s finish the roll call.”

They could hear Lewie Karp in the hallway outside. He drummed the top of a tin popcorn can with his knuckles and called out, “Does anyone here want to play this game?”

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 36 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012


    "May l join?" A queen very heavy with kits says. "My kits are xoming and my clan stopped rpinf. Im Flickerlight."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2014


    As we all know i ur leader will help anybody about anything. I am probe to say fireheat is deputy . Fireheart step up he whated for her to come up make the clan prode . Again we need people where plz post ads everyday please . Now if any cats need help ask me thank u meeting over

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2014


    "Fireheart Fireheart Fireheart!" she cheers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013


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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2013

    Apprentices Den

    Apprentice's Den

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013


    (I'm watching Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakqual. "'Oh, you've got to be joking. A taco? In a blanket? Toby!'" Or my fav, "'Oops. Well, it looks like it's time to play my second favorite game. Hide the Broken TV from Dave. You wanna play?'" XD)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013


    This clan is falling apart it seems. You should come to meadow clan at oeuf. It might be ouef. You can meet my mate and kit.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2013


    Its ok.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013


    Im expecting kiys. Whers the nursery?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2013


    Comes in aare of all the stareing eyrs she leaps at Birdpaw scrapeing her claws across the apprentices eyes blinding her. She runs out as fast as she could

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2013


    I am too. [{}] Birdpaw [{}]

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013


    She lay down and purred. Thank you

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    Moved to farting dog res one


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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013


    Thankyou. Dont make fun of my name but i am a tom

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012



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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012


    Nodded before going to hunt.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2013


    (I am.) {}•Poppyleaf•{}

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012


    She batted at Windystars tail

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