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The Yacoubian Building


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/ Key title An international bestseller, 'The Yacoubian Building' is a mesmerising and controversial novel that is at once an impasssioned celebration and a ruthless dissection of a society dominated by bribery and corruption. / An intense and powerful tale set in Cairo about how one boy's bitter disillusionment with society led to great tragedy. / The novel is being made into the highest-budget Arabic-language film ever made. / For the past four years 'The Yacoubian Building' has been the bestselling novel in the Arab World. / Competition: The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif; The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz

About the Author

Alaa Al Aswany was born in 1957. He is a dentist by profession, and for many years practiced in the Yacoubian Building which was to form the setting for his bestselling novel. He has written prolifically for Egyptian newspapers on politics, literature and social issues.


'An intriguing and highly charged novel!Based on a real-life building in downtown Cairo, Alaa Al Aswany's eponymous structure is a microcosm of modern Egyptian society!Al Aswany manages to capture the challenges facing much of the developing world!a superbly crafted feat of storytelling.' Tash Aw, Daily Telegraph 'There are many stories here. The book is elaborate to bursting point, but always controlled, always whole. It is as juicy and satisfying as a shiny apple, its taste both strange and familiar, compassionate and bitter.' The Times 'In its affectionate portrait of feckless and flawed humanity, this is a rich and engaging book; in its analysis of the Islamist threat, it is a brave and indispensable one.' Daily Mail '"The Yacoubian Building" is the sort of dense neighbourhood novel which, though quite out of style when set in London or Paris, has been revived for the banlieue of downtown Cairo. With its parade of big-city characters, both ludicrous and tender, its warm heart and political indignation, it belongs to a literary tradition that goes back to the 1840s, to Eugene Sue and Charles Dickens.' Guardian 'Al Aswany is excellent on the bitterness young Egyptians feel towards a country where hard-won qualifications are worthless unless backed with money!an absorbing portrait of the struggle to survive in the Arab world's "best friend of the West".' Observer 'You don't get many writers like Alaa Al Aswany in the West any more. "The Yacoubian Building" paints a marvellous picture of modern Egypt with all its hypocrisies and fanaticism -- the gulf between rich and poor reminiscent of Dickensian London. Like the late Naguib Mahfouz, Alaa Al Aswany is a world writer, making Egyptian concerns into human ones and beautifully illuminating our always extraordinary and sometimes sad and baffling world.' The Times 'This bestselling Arabic novel is an engaging series of stories, peopled with wonderful characters, that builds to a passionate climax.' Daily Telegraph 'Alaa Al Aswany is not just a polished storyteller, expertly juggling a diverse cast of characters, but offers fascinating insights into a modern Muslim society.' Sunday Telegraph 'Delves into a mix of power, currption, sex exploitation, poverty, and extremism!lucidly captures the varied aspects of Egyptian life: straight, gay, rich, poor, powerful, and powerless.' Egypt Today 'The colourful stories are interwoven seamlessly in a narrative packed with incident and inevitability. Inevitability, because in 'The Yacoubian Building' the corruption of the neo-colonial government is a natural consequence of colonial history, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a natural by-product of the resistance of such corruption. Evocative and moving.' Sunday Business Post 'A brave novel!with its multiple storylines and accusatory indignation, the novel could have got stuck somewhere between soap opera and soap box. In fact it is far more fascinating. Alongside progressive political and social sentiments are some antiquated attitudes!its sprawling cast of rich and poor, linked by sexual obsession or thirst for money in a capital city like a monstrous seething warren, can call to mind Balzac!What lingers most from this enthralling novel is its close quarters portrayal of a fragmented nation dangerously torn between state ferocity ad Islamist fanaticism.' Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times 'For 2002 and 2003 "The Yacoubian Building" was the bestselling novel in the Arab World. With its agreeable and unobtrusive translation by Humphrey Davies it deserves as wide an audience in the West. People in Egypt, Al Aswany has his narrator observe, are particularly interested in the lives of others, delving into them with 'persistence and focus', and it is his particular skill as a novelist at fixing his large cast of characters, and their intricately mingled lives with such sharpness and humour that makes this book so enjoyable. Poignant, sad, funny, often disquieting, "The Yacoubian Building" is a remarkable book.' The Spectator '"The Yacoubian Building" was a best-seller in Egypt, and last year a feature film based on the book opened there to popular and critical acclaim (though members of the Egyptian parliament tried to censor certain scenes). Although the highest budget Arab film ever made, it still awaits its breakthrough in the West. Let's hope that Humphrey Davies fine translation helps win the wider audience both novel and film deserve.' The Sunday Times

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