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The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

The Yacoubian Building

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Sarah Broadhurst's view...

An astounding portrait of modern Cairo, of bribery and corruption, of love and despair, of opportunities sought and contradictions found, all hung around the occupants of a dilapidated department building. It has been a bestseller in the Arab world for four years and certainly deserves to be one over here too. A very impressive work.

Comparison: Ahdaf Soueif, Naguib Mafouz, Orhan Pamuk.

If you like Alaa Al Aswany you might also like to read books by Orhan Pamuk, Ahdaf Soueif and Junot Diaz.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst


The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

The Yacoubian Building – once grand, but now dilapidated – stands on one of Cairo's main boulevards. Taha, the doorman's son, has aspirations beyond the slum in the skies, and dreams of one day becoming a policeman. He studies hard, and passes all the exams, but when he is rejected because his family is neither rich nor influential, the bitterness sets in. His girlfriend, Busayna, finds herself unable to earn a living without also providing sexual services for the men who hire her. When Taha seeks solace in a student Islamic organisation, the pressure mounts, and he is drawn to actions with devastating consequences.

‘The Yacoubian Building’ follows Taha's trajectory from innocence to tragedy. The people whose lives orbit his – the inhabitants of the building – are also facing their own difficult choices. From those living in squalid and cramped conditions on the rooftops, to the homosexual editor of Le Caire newspaper and a womanising aristocrat, all of the contradictions in Egyptian society are here. Religious feelings live side by side with promiscuity; bribery and exploitation alternate with moments of joy and elation; modernity clashes with the vision of a more ancient society.

Alaa Al Aswany's mesmerising novel caused an unprecedented stir when it was published in Egypt. It is at once an impassioned celebration and a ruthless dissection of a society dominated by bribery and corruption.


'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

'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

About the Author

Alaa Al Aswany was born in 1957. A dentist whose first office was in the Yacoubian Building, he has written prolifically for Egyptian newspapers across the political spectrum on literature, politics and social issues.

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Book Info

Publication date

3rd September 2007


Alaa Al Aswany

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Author 'Like for Like'


Harpercollins Publishers


256 pages


Literary Fiction
Reading Groups
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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