Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

DATE PUBLISHED: 2007 DATE READ: October 2008 NOTES: The Yacoubian Building is set in Cairo at the time of the first Gulf War. The building itself is a somewhat ramshackle apartment block which has seen better days. The diverse inhabitants reveal a microcosm of life in this chaotic city. In the apartments are shady businessmen and a corrupt politician (who has lodged his second wife there), a gay newspaper editor and an aging Lothario who keeps an office for the main purpose of seducing women. On the roof more people live in improvised shacks – the doorkeeper’s family (including the son who becomes radicalised), a beautiful young woman who fights constantly with her employers to keep her virginity and a manipulative and scheming shirtmaker. The narrative moves between all these characters (and more) as they all strive to find success and happiness within the corrupt social and political world in which they find themselves. It is written with great verve and imagination and all his characters come alive for the reader. Although much of the book is dark and depressing it is also sympathetic and humane. However, I imagine the Egyptian Tourist Office would not recommend this book!

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