Monday, November 09, 2015

The Yacoubian Building

by Alaa Al Aswany

I think I probably read about this book in the New York Times Book Review. I didn't read it immediately, but the review intrigued me enough that I did get around to reading it a couple years later.

Using the voices and stories of a variety of fictional residents in a real apartment building in downtown Cairo, the novel explores facets of Egyptian society that were/are considered taboo, such as homosexuality, and the open secrets of corruption and hypocrisy. It's initial publication caused a bit of a stir in the religious and relatively conservative country.

Though the book came out more than a decade ago, and the Arab Spring was five years ago, I imagine The Yacoubian Building still serves as a pretty accurate picture of contemporary urban Egyptian life. For that matter, though it's Egyptian in its details, it's also a pretty good picture of human nature, the (often hidden) complexities of modern life, and the diversity that lurks within seemingly homogeneous cultures.

Writing this review all these years later has solved a riddle of sorts for me. A while back, I was given a reader advisory practice question to suggest a book for someone who enjoyed Let the Great World Spin. One obvious approach, I figured, was to look for books that also have a variety of first-person viewpoints.  I couldn't come up with anything in the moment, and it's nagged at me for years. If I could have remembered The Yacoubian Building, it would have made an excellent answer to the challenge.

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