Book Review: Alaa al Aswany's 'The Yacoubian Building' (Translated by Humphrey Davies)

by - 20:04

After reading the Memory of Love, I wanted something less intense. I also wanted a quick read - and what did I go for? A book about sex and power.

The Yacoubian Building, an actual landmark in Cairo, is a building where the rich and poor of Egyptian society can be found living or working. Poor Cairenes like Busanya and Taha live on the roof, while rich Cairenes like Hatim Rasheed, the homosexual editor of a popular French newspaper, live in the building. Businessmen and politicians are also found here, like Zaki Bey el Dessouki, who works and 'plays' in his office and Hagg Muhammad Azzam, a businessman and aspiring politician. Amongst the other characters linked to the Yacoubian Building are Abduh, Hatim's lover; Souad, Hagg Azzam's secret second wife; Abaskharon, Zaki Bey's 'help'; and Malik Khila, a shirtmaker and Abaskharon's brother.

Yes, there are a lot of characters in The Yacoubian Building, but it doesn't take long to get to know them. They each have their own story, they all have their own vices and their flaws, but really when it comes down to it they are all just trying to make it, whichever way they can, in Egypt. 

Not knowing much about Egyptian society, it was great to read a book that looked at homosexuality, power, corruption, religious fundamentalism, sex and love to name a few. I also enjoyed the lack of chapters - each characters story was separated by a symbol. It was really easy and quick to read, and one I would recommend, especially for those (like me) who are new to North African/Arab literature.

The Yacoubian Building has also been reviewed as part of the Africa and Middle East Reading Challenges.

4 out of 5 stars

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