Book review: The Yacoubian Building

Reviewed by Nana Asfour

Constructed as a series of vignettes about characters whose fates will soon converge, a stylistic device highly popular in today’s Hollywood, Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany’s Arabic best-seller The Yacoubian Building brings to life a seedy and despicable Cairo where only the corrupted and the corruptible can fare well. The book focuses mainly on the residents of the Yacoubian building, a once-chic but now rundown edifice that acts as a metaphor for Cairo’s own deterioration. Gone are the crème de la crème of Egyptian society who lived in the building during the city’s heydays of the thirties and forties. In their stead, a new breed of Cairenes has moved in. All in all, they constitute a loathsome bunch: conniving, egotistic, coarse, violent and dejected.

In this scathing critique of contemporary Egypt, one is hard put to find a redeemable character. Both men and women are manipulative and thieving, with women using their seductive prowess to trap men into self-serving situations. But Al Aswany goes to great length to also show how these people are all victims of their merciless society: Busayna comes to accept her employer’s groping in the backroom because she has a family to support; Souad pretends to enjoy sex with her elderly husband because he can provide for her son from another marriage. It is undoubtedly this groundbreaking literary rendition of Egyptian realism, served with a heavy dose of humor, that has made the book such a hit with the local audience (two years running), and that, despite the awkward translation in parts, renders it an entertaining and revelatory read for those intrigued by Egyptian culture.

Read full article @ Words without Borders

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~ by eneryvibes on 1,February 25, 2011.

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