Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al-Aswany

I have Petros - a dear workmate of mine - to thank for bringing this book to my attention. He promised me that the contents of the book would be an eye-opening experience, that would shine a light into the darker aspects of not just Egyptian society, but also a great deal of African and Middle-Eastern societies too.

As you read the stories if the diverse occupants of the once glamourous, but now seedy, Yacoubian Building in Cairo, their lives seem to touch on many of the root causes of the recent events in Egypt - not least government corruption.

The fragmented story traces the lives of an aging single man, a beautiful young female, a man who turns to extremism, a corrupt politician, an illicit gay couple, a greedy sister and a would-be entrepreneur, all of whom are bound together by this architectural relic of Egypt's more 'European' past.

The winding nature of the text and its evolution over the course of the book, is countered beautifully by the short, episodic nature of the action. The narrative takes the reader on a genuine and believable journey through the trials of love, loss, hate, passion, extremism, manipulation, murder and hopelessness leading, eventually and thankfully for the reader, a happy ending.

Without being an expert on Egypt, this novel in so many ways feels as if you are getting a genuine insight into the conflicting and entwined lives of a small group of Cairo's residents in the same way Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window' did, albeit less claustrophobically. A wonderful novel, worthy of the attention of the Western world.

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