lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #14: The Yacoubian Building by Alaa el Aswany
The Yacoubian Building is a novel set in 1990’s Egypt, although the author admits that the attitudes and mores are consistent with today’s Cairo, as much as they can be after the January 25thmovement, which has added a new (more open) political dimension to the public sphere here. The story follows the tenants of one yacoubian building, an actual building on Sharia Talaat Harb, right near Midan Tahrir. Although the building is not as beautiful or ornate as described in the book, it is the actual setting where Aswany, a dentist by profession, had his first dental patients. Aswany writes in a way that is so true to what I know of Egypt and of the Middle East, and I feel like his personal connection to the building and to the neighborhood shines through in the writing.
Although the book describes Cairene society, it doesn’t reflect Cairo or Egypt as a whole, as some people have generalized it to do. The Yacoubian Building reflects the problems and desires and life choices of a certain subset of people in a dramatically imagined Cario. I highly enjoyed Aswany’s depiction of this type of society, and that he chose to tell these stories, because I think they exist much more frequently in Egyptian society than many people know or care to admit. However, it is clear that these narratives are fictionalized (which I’ve seen be more frequently obscured in discussions of Arab literature than in other genres) and focus on the exceptional rather than the prosaic.
To read more, check out the full post on my blog!