Sunday, 13 December 2015

THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING by Alaa al Aswany

As I am in Egypt I am making an effort to read Egyptian books. Helpfully, the tour company gave a suggested reading list. Horrifyingly, not one of these was by an Egyptian. This is particularly appalling, as Egypt is one of the few African countries to have a Nobel Laureate in Literature – Naguib Mahfouz (along with Zimbabwe – thank you, Doris Lessing). I’ve read Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, so I decided to go with another Egyptian, Aswany, whose THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING was a huge best seller in the Arab world at the turn of this century.

The books centres on the inhabitants of a single building in Cairo, from the poor people who live in slum conditions on the roof to the somewhat wealthier people who live inside the building itself. I was described as Dickensian in scope, so I was all ready for a really good long read. In the end, it was hardly more than a tasty snack. A huge cast of characters was introduced, I was just getting interested in them – and then it was over. What there was I enjoyed – the hard working poor young man who becomes an extremist, the dissolute old man who surprises himself by falling in love, the businessman who gets in too deep with the military – but I wish there had been much much more.

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