The Yacoubian building – once grand, but now dilapidated – stands on one of Cairo’s main boulevards. Taha, the doorman’s son, has aspirations beyond the slum in the skies, and dreams of one day becoming a policeman. He studies hard, and passes all the exams, but when he is rejected because his family is neither rich nor influential, the bitterness sets in. His girlfriend, Busyana, finds herself unable to earn a living without also providing sexual services for the men who hire her. When Taha seeks solace in a student Islamic organisation, the pressure mounts, and he is drawn to actions with devastating consequences.
‘The Yacoubian Building’ follows Taha’s trajectory from innocence to tragedy. The people whose lives orbit his – the inhabitants of the building – are also facing their own difficult choices. From those living in squalid and cramped conditions on the rooftops, to the homosexual editor of Le Caire newspaper and a womanising aristocrat, all of the contradictions in Egyptian society are here. Religious feelings live side-by-side with promiscuity; bribery and exploitation alternate with moments of joy and elation; modernity clashes with the vision of a more ancient society.
Alaa Al Aswany’s mesmerising novel caused an unprecedented stir when it was published in Egypt. It is at once an impassioned celebration and a ruthless dissection of a society dominated by bribery and corruption.
Reviews of The Yacoubian Building
- ‘You don’t get many writers like Alaa Al Aswany in the West any more. “The Yacoubian Building” paints a marvellous picture of modern Egypt with all its hypocrisies and fanaticism – the gulf between rich and poor reminiscent of Dickensian London. Like the late Naguib Mahfouz, Alaa Al Aswany is a world writer, making Egyptian concerns into human ones and beautifully illuminating our always extraordinary and sometimes sad and baffling world.’ The Times
- ‘A wonderfully atmospheric, poignant and funny novel about the lives and loves of the residents of a once glamorous but now sad Cairo apartment block. It serves, too, as a microcosm of the social and political troubles of Egypt itself. My best book of the year, so far.’ Guardian
- ‘A bewitching political novel of contemporary Cairo that is also an ‘engage’ novel about sex, a romantic novel about power and a comic yet sympathetic novel about the vagaries of the human heart.’ New York Times Book Review
- ‘A powerful novel of corruption and fanaticism…Anyone with an interest in Middle East culture will find something refreshing here. Anyone else willing to lose their weekend devouring this absorbing novel shouldn’t hesitate.’ Waterstones Books Quarterly
- ‘Captivating and controversial…an amazing glimpse of modern Egyptian society and culture.’ New York Review of Books
- ‘Delves into a mix of power, currption, sex exploitation, poverty, and extremism…lucidly captures the varied aspects of Egyptian life: straight, gay, rich, poor, powerful, and powerless.’ Egypt Today