Review: Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building

The Yacoubian Building: A Novel

Alla Al Aswany

When I lived in Cairo in 2007, the Yacoubian Building was probably the most talked about book. Every time I brought up Mahfouz in a conversation, this book comes up as well. Written in 2002, but taking place during the time of the first Gulf War this book deals with themes rarely seen in Egyptian literature – homosexuality, prostitution, Muslim Brotherhood and political corruption. Word is everyone in the book can be traced to a living public figure, but the author denies this. When we were talking about it at work the other day, everyone seemed to be able to agree on who the nasty political fixer was, but everyone had their own theory on who the gay newspaper editor was…

It’s a good book. The writing isn’t as strong as Mahfouz but the storyline in compelling and when shit starts to fall apart at the end, I found myself pretty seriously emotionally connected to the characters. The characterization of the single gay character (which gets all the attention when I talk to people about this book) would be considered offensive by liberal western notions** but here the fact that the gay male character is portrayed at all, and is portrayed in what is basically a favorable if stereotypical light is cause for a whole lot of controversy. When they made this one into a movie, apparently there were protests… and major box office sales as well.

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  1. Pat

    Hi, good to see the Aswany’s books reviewed, have read both this and Chicago in the past, here’s a link if you’re interested to one of my first blogs from 2014 on his ‘Automobile Club’ in English but read in French

    1. seanv2

      Thanks for the link, I haven’t read Chicago, but I’ll check it out!

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