Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Yacoubian Building

Last year, when I visited Cairo, I remember thinking how similar it was to my home-city of Bombay. It is a city of contradictions: where the very rich and the very poor live down the same street; where the once-elegant colonial structures blend into the general landscape of indifference; where people come to terms with the lack of fairness in the world & yet dream of good lives for themselves. My impressions of Cairo were confirmed when last week I read Alaa Al Aswany’s controversial ‘The Yacoubian Building’.

I loved the book. Not only is Al Aswany great at story-telling, he is also fearless. He gets his characters to open the closet doors wide, so that the skeletons come tumbling down: political corruption, homosexuality, militant nationalism, sexual repression, exploitation & other such taboo issues. The stories & characters are a slice out of modern Cairo & yet, they could have been in any big third world city. It provides a great insight into why the youth of these cities either leave the cities for the glossier lives in western cities or get misguided into believing that the only solution to their circumstances lies in extremist nationalism. Cynical, but thought provoking & overall, an excellent read. Highly recommended.

25 comments:

Lotus Reads said...

Reading your review of this book sent a delightful shiver up my spine, Radha, because it appears to have everything I am looking for in a book...controversy, broaching taboo subjects fearlessly, characters with universal appeal, thought provoking subject matters and so on...I will have to make sure I buy this book. Thanks for the heads-up!

Annitya said...

We had one class discussion on Egypt, and I'm going to recommend this book to my teacher. Ohh yes, I'd also like to read it when I get a chance.

Thanks.

suramya said...

hey, thats a lovely description of the book, I am going to add on my list of books to read

Moi said...

the review makes me feel like picking up the book right away .......got tons of reads lined up for the summer and am so looking fwd to it .......thanx for recommending :)

Happy Reader said...

Thanks so much for the review! I've been wondering what this book is all about for quite a while now. It sounds like an interesting book! I should read this one.

Radha said...

Lotus,
Hi! Well the original novel was in arabic & hugely controversial. So I took it up more out of curiosity, but I'm glad I did :)

Annitya,
Yes, you might want to recommend this book if you're discussing the social & political issues in Egypt.

Suramya,
Hi, how have you been? Well, there are not many great books at the moment coming out from the middle east/ north africa. So this one is worth a read simply because it gives you a peek into this society.

Radha said...

Moi,
Hi, What are the other books on the summer reading list? Curious to know!

Happy Reader,
Hey, you're welcome! As I was telling Lotus, this book was originally in arabic & they say its much better read in arabic (dont they always say that!). But when the original came out it was attacked by the Egyptian government as well as the Islamists as being too western-influenced. Last year, the book was made into an Egyptian movie with some of the biggest stars. And its become sort of a milestone in Arab literature now.

Julia Scissor said...

Interesting review! I'll go get a copy of that book.

666 said...

I love Egyptian mythology and hope to one day comfortably visit all the historical monuments in Misr

will keep an eye open for 'The Yacoubian Building'

Kanishka Agiwal said...

Oh, nice. Alternative literature interest me too. Wonder if I can pick this up somewhere..not in India for sure.

Radha said...

Julia Scissor,
Hi ! Good to see ya here!

666,
Umm, well, modern Cairo is far far away from the Egyptian mythology or the ancient civilization. The actual Yacoubian Building in fact, was built in 1930s when European influence on Egypt was at its prime. But you should go visit the ancient monuments of Egypt anyway since you like history; they're beautiful & give you a glimpse into life 5000 yrs ago!

Kanishka ,
Now that you have a visa I'm sure you can go shopping for books in Amreeka!!

Yuva said...

haven't read this bu i thought Cairo Trilogy is awesome.

Radha said...

Yuva,
Have you read all the three? Wow! I've heard a lot about Mahfouz, but not read him. Yacoubian Building is a bit more modern though as its set in the 1990s.

mookuthi said...

Hi radha
Your review wants me to pick this book right away:). I will read it and compare notes:)

Jin said...

I'll be looking for this book, next time I'm near a decent bookshop. I loved Cairo - just about everything about it, except the noise!

diyadear said...

egypt is one place i wud love to visit(the list is huge ;)) will try to read the book.

Radha said...

Mookuthi,
Hey, how was your vacation? Will look fwd to your review on the book :)

Jin,
I liked Cairo too. Its so full of history. Its one of those 'must-see' places but I wouldn't want to live there!

Diya,
Hi! I know what you mean! My list of places to visit is ever expanding. But I would surely recommend Egypt to you.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

It has been made into a movie now. It aired on last years filmfestival in stockholm and I had tickets and all...and couldn't go!

Radha said...

Hi SS, welcome back! Yeah, I heard abt the movie; it has a huge star cast of Egyptian actors. I'm sure it wud've been interesting. Just curious, why couldnt you go?? :)

Mr. J said...

Erm, what genre do these books fall under? I don't think it's Travel... or is it?

Btw, Cairo reminded me of a certain post made by another blogger.

Check this out: http://peatales.blogspot.com

Moi said...

oh lots, radha......from Steinbeck to Coelho to Marquez...i have them all lined up.....gotta finish some unfinished ones which became causalities due to exams and semester deadlines. whats next on ur list ???

Radha said...

Nothing as of now....i'm still wondering what to pick next :)

Protegeoflife said...

wow u write well and thanx for lovely review of book and insight into some world unknown to us

Radha said...

Protege,
Hi, welcome to petty-change. And thank you for the nice words...u're making me blush!! :)

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Well that week I was shifting offices so thinsg were MAD to say the least! and the tickets I managed to get were daytime ones...ah well :)