The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany

01 Mar

YacoubianBuilding_thumb2I have returned!  To little or no fanfare, as you guys probably had no idea that cosmic forces were waging the ultimate battle for the universe in my laptop, well I can only conclude that they were.  Either that or a virus got in.

I didn’t waste my time worrying about the fate of everyone and everything existing in the universe and of the unborn aliens and humans who would never exist, I read instead.

The Yacoubian building is a real building – although has a different, less impressive appearance to its elaborate fictional counterpart – and is the home at some point or another to most of the characters in the book.

The plot has us following a number of residents of varying class and beliefs going about their daily lives and shows the struggles of a community that is probably misunderstood by a large proportion of the Western society.

Set at the time of the first Gulf War, with tensions rising between religious and political leaders about the legality of the war. with the effects of Colonialism still resonating through all walks of society this is a real collision of East meets West book.

The Yacoubian Building itself represents Egyptian society in microcosm, A kaleidoscopic mish-mash of beliefs, sometimes conflicting but always contrasting making for a diverse group of people from all walks of life. Connected by the building, the building itself stands like a grand impassive edifice always brooding over and dwarfing all the lives of the residents with its cold impassive stone.

Although Al Aswany writes in a simple style, (it isn’t pretentious or dramatic, except when it needs to be)  His non judgemental approach leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind about the subject matter and never preaches or claims one side is right or wrong. As it is all characters should be viewed in the context of a ‘everyman’ representative of their class.

The flaws of religious fundamentalist ideologies are exposed, this not an attack on islamic fundamentalism but is again representative of the idiocy of fundamentalists from ALL religions.  Shown also is the issue of gay people trying to reconcile their sexuality with their religion, as well as many other facets of this book, that time prevents me from listing them, suffice to say that life ‘ain’t all happiness’.

This ultimately tragic story is made more fascinating in the light of Hosni Mubarak’s relatively recent downfall, as politics and religion collide with traditional and foreign cultures.  This an interesting if basic view of another country, some of it is genuinely disturbing, but ultimately satisfying.  Except for the end which isn’t tied up as neatly as I would have liked, still if leaves room to speculate on certain characters future.


Posted by on 01/03/2013 in Fiction


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

16 responses to “The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany

  1. Letizia

    01/03/2013 at 22:44

    I saw the film and didn’t even know it was a novel! Will have to look into this.


    • StetotheJ

      01/03/2013 at 23:01

      I am the opposite, glad I read the book first, it shows how behind the times i am on the film front. I may check it out after watching Leprechaun 5 ‘in da hood’ of course!


  2. evermoreevil

    01/03/2013 at 22:49

    I thought you’d died, or gone to Birmingham. Great post. I like the idea of a book set underneath one roof, so to speak. I also quite like open-ended um…endings…


    • StetotheJ

      01/03/2013 at 23:09

      I’d never go there again, once was enough. People even live ON the roof, imagine that. Open ended can be good, unless you are a closure fan, I’m not so that’s alright then.


      • evermoreevil

        02/03/2013 at 11:41

        They live on the roof too? Even more intriguing. I like closure most times.I think when you’re taken on a long journey, to be left hanging could be terribly frustrating.


        • StetotheJ

          03/03/2013 at 21:15

          They live everywhere, intriguing to have the poorest live at the top, when they are the bottom of society. On the plus side it is not really open ended, just open endd enough to make you think more about how they will react to events as a person, rather than focusing on the actual events that will follow.


  3. Liz at Libro

    02/03/2013 at 06:44

    I started to read this once but gave up – I think there must have been some violence or other ickiness in the early pages, as it’s the kind of book I usually go for …


    • StetotheJ

      03/03/2013 at 19:03

      it does have violence in it and some sex as well, it is quite brutal but at least he depicts the good and bad honestly as a positive spin on it.


  4. 최다해 gongjumonica

    02/03/2013 at 12:50

    Welcome back! It’s really weird. i think you made comments that I haven’t replied yet, but I didn’t see any in my notifications which are left unresponded.

    Not my cup of tea, but it sounds interesting. Nice review, Steve. I’ll rest from book reviewing. i have a couple to post and after that, I’ll go back sharing uninteresting events and thoughts in my life.


    • StetotheJ

      03/03/2013 at 21:46

      The notifications sometimes appear days later sometimes, I have noticed that with yours. Your life is never uninteresting, it may be to you but to your faithful readers, it is full of colour and interesting. Keep the thoughts coming too as I enjoy seeing things from your point of view. It makes life richer to see with another’s eyes.


  5. Claire 'Word by Word'

    02/03/2013 at 13:35

    Wow, we’ve missed your posts, they’re like none other! Welcome back 🙂 Great reading opportunity, isn’t this the book written by a dentist?


    • StetotheJ

      03/03/2013 at 21:10

      I just checked it out on Wikipedia the most trustworthy source this side of the made up dictionary. He is as is his wife. It’s nice when people have things in common. I didn’t get much reading done I’m ashamed to admit, I have been distracted in a good way of late. Glad you missed me, I sometimes miss me but when turn round it just so happens I was behind myself all the time!


  6. RoSy

    02/03/2013 at 18:24

    I was thinking more like won the lottery & ran off to an exotic island with all your books!


    • StetotheJ

      03/03/2013 at 20:55

      I could never do that,because it may not have blogging facilities! It would be heaven though, a sort of more whimsical Lord of the Flies/Treasure Island/Coral Island amalgamation but with lots of time for napping.


  7. LuAnn

    07/03/2013 at 13:42

    So glad to have you back! This sounds like a fascinating read and I didn’t even know about the film, so I guess I am way behind the times as well. Will definitely have this one on my list. Thanks Ste J. 🙂



Tell me stuff...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: