Friday, October 12, 2007

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

Very Good! Sensitively written with interesting characters that you really care about.

This book caught my eye in the local bookshop and looked intriguing. I wasn't disappointed and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed The Kite Runner or God of Small Things.

It's set in Cairo around the time of the first Gulf War and describes the lives of the people living in the Yacoubian building. Some people live in poverty in the roof, while others live in the faded glory of the apartments. The book ties in the lives of a varied group of people, from Taha the doorman's son to Zaki Bey, an aging playboy clinging on to his aristocratic past.

None of the people in the book are "perfect" or do the "right" thing; they are alive and real from the first pages. The writer does a good job of drawing you into the characters, making you care about them and their struggles or triumphs.

My favourite character was Busayna, a young woman from a very poor family. She has no choice but to put up with the advances of lecherous employers, and she faces these ordeals pragmatically in order to support her family. However, day by day her bitterness grows and you can almost feel her self-belief ebbing away. How she reconciles what she has to do to survive with her deep, sincere religious beliefs is sad and sharp at the same time.

The book was originally written in Arabic and was the bestselling Arabic novel in 2002 and 2003. I knew this when I started reading, so I was surprised by the sympathetically written description of homosexuality. It addresses corruption, Islamic fundamentalism as well as human weaknesses and strengths. Read it!!! It's really good!

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