The Yacoubian BuildingRead about another novel recommended by Humphrey Davies at The Browser.
Alaa Al Aswany
Your first book is Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building.
The Yacoubian Builiding is celebrated, possibly even notorious, for being a real bestseller — originally in Egypt and the Arab world and subsequently in the West, in English and in many other languages. It tells the story of a building in downtown Cairo, and the changes that have affected the building and its inhabitants. So it encapsulates the last 80 years of Egyptian history and it provides a series of extremely sharply drawn sketches of what you might call archetypal figures of our day. You have the aging aristocrat; you have the doorkeeper’s son who becomes a terrorist when his career ambitions are thwarted by the system. There’s a corrupt mega-businessman who winds up trying to battle the government when it wants to take what he considers too big of a bite of his business — and a whole range of other poor and middle class characters who are adapting to the situation as best they can. It’s beautifully written; it’s incredibly readable; it’s often very funny — and I suspect it will go on being read for many years as a kind of portrait of Egypt on the eve of the events that are taking place now.So it rings true? These are people you do actually meet?
I find them incredibly recognisable people, yes.
One of the reviews said it was ‘gripping’, which seems like a good sign.
Oh yes. I don’t suppose this was in the author’s mind, but it almost feels like a soap opera. Each new story, each thread, is taken to a certain point — and then he leaves it just at the point when you’re really, really keen to know what happens next and moves on to a different thread. It’s very deftly written.
Also see: Eight of the best articles on the upheaval in Egypt.