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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing but fascinating insight into Egyptian culture
The Yacoubian Building is misleading easy to read, but the insights it unveils can be both bleak and enlightening.
The threads of The Yacoubian Building twist together to create a compelling and easily digested story. It's a series of individual tales set in modern Egypt, each offering a slightly different view of life in a modern middle-eastern city, where lives...
Published on 21 Aug. 2008 by Rowena Hoseason

versus
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile as a Window into Another Society
This book was published in Arabic in 2002 and for a few years thereafter was one of the world's best-selling novels in that language. It was translated into English in 2004. I didn't open it looking for a masterpiece of style or psychological depth, but for a window into another society's values, types, behaviors and problems. On that level, it satisfied.

It...
Published on 31 July 2008 by Reader in Tokyo


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing but fascinating insight into Egyptian culture, 21 Aug. 2008
By 
Rowena Hoseason "Hooligween" (Kernow, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Hardcover)
The Yacoubian Building is misleading easy to read, but the insights it unveils can be both bleak and enlightening.
The threads of The Yacoubian Building twist together to create a compelling and easily digested story. It's a series of individual tales set in modern Egypt, each offering a slightly different view of life in a modern middle-eastern city, where lives overlap in an old colonial apartment block. Once I'd read enough to keep the characters straight in my mind the pages absolutely flew by; I found it to be very engaging and absorbing.
We meet various characters whose lives are enhanced / overturned / damaged by the events which unfold as the plot weaves between them. The Yacoubian Building offers western readers like myself a fascinating glimpse at how life might be lived at different social levels in Cairo; you can almost get swept away in the deliberate bustle and hustle of the street life which the novel brilliantly evokes. The book also explains how a Muslim youth might come to be radicalised - but it is not a book about Muslim extremism. It also reveals political corruption, the reality of being a young working woman in Egyptian society, the nature of love and how it can be found when least expected, how a homosexual might struggle to find a permanent partner and any form of social acceptance, and how some folk still mourn the loss of grandeur which faded along with the old colonial influence.
There's plenty of sex in The Yacoubian Building, too; some of it is sensually delirious, some of it is graphically unpleasant and sordid, and most of it is honestly believable.
Not all of the plot threads come to a satisfactory end (I couldn't help wondering what happened to some of the minor characters), and if you're looking for an upbeat and positive conclusion then you may not be entirely happy with the way some of these stories are resolved. However, I'm glad the author resisted the temptation to neatly sew everything together and, despite some of the bitter endings, my overall impression of The Yacoubian Building is positive. I'll definitely look out for other books by the same author, and appreciate the very sympathetic and considered work of the translator.
If the themes of the Yacoubian Building interest you, then I can also recommend the author's next work, Chicago, which elaborates upon them and sets the action in the USA.
8/10
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Some peoples are excitable and rebellious by nature, but the Egyptian keeps his head down his whole life long so he can eat.", 10 July 2009
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Hardcover)
Western readers coming to this novel will find it an exciting reading experience and a vibrant and descriptive primer illuminating the various forces in contemporary Egypt that affect its current political climate. Set in a ten-story building built in 1934 and located in downtown Cairo, the Yacoubian building was once the ultimate in luxury, located in an area in which the most elegant of European activities took place and where Europhiles gathered to eat, drink and socialize. In the ensuing years, the Yacoubian Building has changed its character, as has the surrounding neighborhood, and it is now a microcosm of life in Egypt. The small iron rooms on the roof, which were once used for storage by each apartment owner, are now occupied as tiny residences by the poor. The elegant apartments which once housed the elite have now attracted the military and politicians who took over after the revolution of 1952.

Using a conversational and unpretentious style to create characters that the reader comes to care about, Alaa Al Aswany shows his characters' home life, their dreams and goals, the nature of life in the city at large, and the characters' impediments to success. Many residents are poor, and some have become poor as a result of their property being seized by the government. No one at the Yacoubian Building is secure in any aspect of his/her life.

A variety of characters of different ages engages in many different daily activities as the author creates his vibrant "world," examining throughout the novel why certain forces are so influential--the movement for democracy, the growing Islamist counterculture, the power of the sheikhs and their differences in scriptural interpretation, the inbred culture of the military and the police, the student movements, and, most of all, the long-term influence of generations of poverty. Always in the background is the contest for wills between those who wish for true democacy and those committed to an Islamist future.

Al Aswany's remarkable study of the conversion of one character into a committed Islamist will resonate with westerners who read it, as it speaks more clearly than anything else I've read on why someone would take this route. The reasons that most westerners ascribe to these decisions do not really pertain here, and as Al Aswany shows through his character's reading of the scriptures why terrorism "makes sense" to him, western readers may also see why there is very little that non-Muslims can do to prevent the kind of absolute thinking that results in jihad, the commitment of people who truly believe that they are doing God's work. Simple in style, beautifully descriptive of daily life, insightful regarding the humanity of his characters, and filled with the kind of detail that enables the very best novels to communicate on an emotional level with readers from other cultures, Alaa Al Aswany's novel has depicted Egypt with all its variety, its energy, and its hopes within the microcosm of the Yacoubian Building. n Mary Whipple

Chicago
Friendly Fire
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From corruption to impassioned devotion, a cross section of humanity, 4 April 2007
By 
Benjamin (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Hardcover)
Set in Cairo around the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, The Yacoubian Building covers the lives of the varied assortment of residents of the decaying Art Deco apartment block of the title. The residents range from the wealthy who live in the apartment building proper to the poor who inhabit the cabins on the roof. The wealthy include a self made business man who courts political success, a gay editor in chief of a French language newspaper passionately in love with a policeman, and an aging yet virile playboy. The residents on the roof include young devout Muslim who as a very able student who aspires to join the police, his attractive and initially naïve girlfriend who lives with her mother, and a shirt maker who eventually sets up business on the roof.

One or another of this varied collection of humanity engage in or suffer deceit, corruption, illegal dealings, domestic strife, rejection, fundamentalism, torture, and sexual desire, harassment and fulfilment. For some the outcome is frustration or even tragedy, for others unexpected joy and satisfaction. Altogether this provides a very colourful picture of life in Egypt during a difficult period. An engaging and revealing read.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting slice of Cairo life, 25 Mar. 2008
By 
Gordon Eldridge (Brussels, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Paperback)
Al Aswany populates the Yacoubian Building with a set of socially diverse characters and then relates a set of stories involving various residents. This device allows him to create a portrait of life in Cairo; the injustices suffered by the poor, the corruption of the elite, the political and economic realities of a repressed society and the way religion is used by different players to achieve their purposes.

The main characters are each introduced in some detail and because there are a large number of them, this means that lengthy digressions into the background of characters are still taking place halfway through the book. This tends to almost bog the narrative down in places. The other disadvantage of having so many central characters is that it makes it difficult to develop them in any real way. Though a number of them do emerge by the end of the book as having the necessary depth to make them interesting, others remain close to being stereotypes. The novel is an interesting slice of modern Cairo life and as such is a rewarding read, but it doesn't quite ever become totally engrossing.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile as a Window into Another Society, 31 July 2008
This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Hardcover)
This book was published in Arabic in 2002 and for a few years thereafter was one of the world's best-selling novels in that language. It was translated into English in 2004. I didn't open it looking for a masterpiece of style or psychological depth, but for a window into another society's values, types, behaviors and problems. On that level, it satisfied.

It followed the lives of five main characters who lived or worked in a once-grand, now-decaying building in downtown Cairo: male/female, young/old, rich/poor, devout/secular, educated/working class, straight/gay. The author introduced the five as individuals, then paired them off with each other or with the secondary characters around them. The action jumped back and forth between the pairs as the novel progressed, contrasting the characters' behavior up through the conclusion.

With this structure, the author was able to touch on many aspects of society, one after another. He depicted political corruption, the scheming for advantage among the powerful and powerless, sexual repression and obsession, the benefits that flowed from money and connections, the lack of democracy and opportunity, the frustration that led to religious fundamentalism, and the search of so many for love and respect.

In interviews, the author has said he saw the majority of the characters in his novel as oppressed, and that he believed in the long run a repressive government would generate terrorism. In the book, one of the protagonists argued that the country's curse was dictatorship, that it led inevitably to poverty, corruption and failure in all fields, and that a step forward must include progress toward democracy.

I was struck particularly by the book's ending, where the main characters' various fates might hint at the author's view of the way toward a brighter future: joining the tolerant outlook of the old with the aspirations and vitality of the young, in a relationship of mutual trust and respect. And an avoidance of religious extremism and unbridled sensuality, both of which seemed to lead to wasted potential and a dead end.

The story was very readable, and the plot raced along. Toward the end, the pace was sustained at the cost of some believability. I found the characters' behavior credible or interesting enough a good deal of the time, except for the sudden anger and class scorn expressed by one of the characters that led to violence. Or the love that developed so quickly between a younger character and an older one.

Finally, I was left wondering how the author really felt about the religious beliefs of the sheikh who became the mentor of one of the young main characters. How evolution toward democracy would incorporate people like the sheikh is something I'm still trying to understand.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, 23 Feb. 2011
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Paperback)
Having read a lot about Egypt, both ancient and modern, I have only now discovered this author's writings.

I found The Yacoubian Building to be a great read, and it operated well on a number of levels. On the most superficial level, it is a witty, interesting novel about people who are tied together only by their interest, in one way or another, with this building in Cairo.

But from there, and once you move further into the book, it turns into something else. The light-hearted apparently carefree lives of the residents and visitors to the Yacoubian Building become darker. Their lives, for the most part, descend to an almost inevitable awfulness, as they are drawn from a microcosm of the Yacoubian Building to a broader perspective - Cairo, Egypt, the Islamic world. Decisions on whether to become a policeman or whether to work in a clothes shop become bigger and harsher - and the consequences more brutal and long-term.

It should also be noted by those reviewers who criticised the apparent homosexual (or homophobic) matter in the book, that homosexuality is a problem in Egypt, and is again a point to be considered in the broader aspects of life in Egypt for the Egyptians under the Emergency Rule Regime of Mubarak and those earlier regimes of Nasser and Sadat - for those who would wish to get a better, more political understanding of the Egypt of the last 50 years following the Revolution, I would recommend "Inside Egypt: the land of the Pharaohs on the brink of a revolution" by John R Bradley - most insightful.

This book stands well as both a glimpse of a neighbourhood (as the reader we glide into the lives and pause for a while, watching, and then glide away again, leaving the Yacoubian Building residents in their own world) and as a picture of Egyptians living under autocratic rule, victims of persecution in their own country, held down by corruption and despair.

Brilliant! I'm off to find some more of Alaa Al Aswany's works to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic writer, 8 Jan. 2009
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This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Paperback)
This is almost an old-fashioned book - like a family saga, except the family is the inhabitants of a the Yacoubian building. The story line is fast-paced and sweeps you along a panorama of Egyptian lives.
It is amusing, entertaining and deeply tragic, without ever losing a sense of optimism. A great novel.

Alaa Al Aswany is a talented and respected writer, who portrays all his characters with so much empathy and insight that you find yourself caring about even the more despicable ones.
An easy, enjoyable and educational (for those of us in the West) read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An amusing tale, which people with experience of any Arab country will be able to relate to, 7 Nov. 2011
By 
This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Paperback)
The Yacoubian building is a cleverly interwoven tale which tells the stories of a variety of colourful individuals, their daily lives, their dreams for the future and the incidents which befall them. The book is amusing in parts, and reads as if the stories are all true. If you have spent some time in living in the Middle East, the nature of some of the characters and the description of various aspects of society (Islamic fundamentalism, bureaucracy, overly red blooded males and political corruption) are all themes which you will be able to relate to well.

Some of the characters are not developed as much as others, and the loose ends on finishing the book are a little too.... loose, and therefore the book fades out somewhat. However some characters, such as the young lady who becomes Zaki Bey's lover, are very engaging, and as a reader you may well find yourself silently urging them to follow a particular course of action!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book... Part of the path to Tahrir Sq, 30 April 2012
This review is from: The Yacoubian Building (Paperback)
I was reading this on holiday in Cairo and was so taken by the book that I tracked down the real life Yacoubian Building (easy to find at junction of Talaat Harb and Aldy streets, and seemingly as full of chaotic atmosphere and characters as in the novel).
I loved the way Aswany brings out the colour of the people living varyingly hard and complicated lives under the Mubarak regime. He has a soft, humane, gently-mocking and humorous touch combined with a steely no nonsense understanding of the realities of living in a police state.
The individual stories are wonderful - so peculiar in places that they sound true (some picked up from the dentist's chair in Aswany's non-writing work?)
The discontent and difficulties described have a direct line to the Tahrir Sq demos... Terrific read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Yacoubian Building, 26 July 2014
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
Having read a lot about Egypt, both ancient and modern, I have only now discovered this author's writings.

I found The Yacoubian Building to be a great read, and it operated well on a number of levels. On the most superficial level, it is a witty, interesting novel about people who are tied together only by their interest, in one way or another, with this building in Cairo.

But from there, and once you move further into the book, it turns into something else. The light-hearted apparently carefree lives of the residents and visitors to the Yacoubian Building become darker. Their lives, for the most part, descend to an almost inevitable awfulness, as they are drawn from a microcosm of the Yacoubian Building to a broader perspective - Cairo, Egypt, the Islamic world. Decisions on whether to become a policeman or whether to work in a clothes shop become bigger and harsher - and the consequences more brutal and long-term.

It should also be noted by those reviewers who criticised the apparent homosexual (or homophobic) matter in the book, that homosexuality is a problem in Egypt, and is again a point to be considered in the broader aspects of life in Egypt for the Egyptians under the Emergency Rule Regime of Mubarak and those earlier regimes of Nasser and Sadat - for those who would wish to get a better, more political understanding of the Egypt of the last 50 years following the Revolution, I would recommend "Inside Egypt: the land of the Pharaohs on the brink of a revolution" by John R Bradley - most insightful.

This book stands well as both a glimpse of a neighbourhood (as the reader we glide into the lives and pause for a while, watching, and then glide away again, leaving the Yacoubian Building residents in their own world) and as a picture of Egyptians living under autocratic rule, victims of persecution in their own country, held down by corruption and despair.

Brilliant! I'm off to find some more of Alaa Al Aswany's works to read.
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The Yacoubian Building
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (Paperback - 3 Sept. 2007)
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