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The Yacoubian Building: A Novel Paperback – August 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


“[A] hilarious, sensual, bawdy and beautiful novel.” (Nerve)

“Captivating and controversial .. . .an amazing glimpse of modern Egyptian society and culture.” (New York Review of Books)

“...tremendously likable.... This vision of life connects high with low, rich with poor, through shared vices and needs.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

About the Author

Alaa Al Aswany is the internationally bestselling author of The Yacoubian Building and Chicago. A journalist who writes a controversial opposition column, Al Aswany makes his living as a dentist in Cairo.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Harper Perennial Edition edition (August 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060878134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060878139
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

143 of 153 people found the following review helpful By Bee on August 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Bad news first:

I found this book a little difficult to get into for a couple of reasons. One, I am not at all familiar with landscape of Egypt. Second, although I am marrying an Egyptian, and have somewhat of a familiarity for Arabic names, it was still a bit confusing to keep track of each of the characters -- especially with most of them having a nickname or title attached to their name in various parts of the story. I found myself having to back track during the first 30 or so pages to keep each character straight, which was a bit frustrating for a seasoned reader with a supposedly high comprehension level. I know, I know: what should I expect from a book translated from Arabic, about Arabic people, and taking place in an Arabic world? Still, I thought that it merited a warning...

Good news:

This was still an absolutely gripping novel. For those like me who may struggle with the names or places and get a bit frustrated in the initial pages, the story is well worth it. I was soon immersed in the lives of the characters, and began to care for them as if I knew them personally. I was able to relate it to what I know of Egyptian culture, and it opened my eyes to aspects of the culture which I have not personally seen.

In the larger scope of things, it really makes you think about the political/religious/ethnic and just general social issues that surround us. It allows one to think outside of the box and experience a life or lives that you ordinarily would not be able to. Although very sad in parts, it also contained great happiness, and allows you to truly see a beautiful culture at its best, at its worst, at its most twisted, and at its most innocent. A very honest, and very enthusiastic 5 stars.
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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is one of those books that comes along once in a great while and has the power to take over one's life for the week or so it takes to read through the book completely. The characters are likeable and relatable, the plot both surprising and inevitable, and the writing is poetic and foreign in a beautiful and intriguing way. Recommended.
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102 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Arthur C. Hurwitz on April 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Alaa Al Aswany is a social realist writer of Egypt with a style and a methodology not unlike that of Naguib Mahfouz. The difference is, however, that he portraying Egypt in the long term aftermath of the Free Officers' coup de etat, the Arab nationalism of Gamal Abd al-Nasir and its social reforms, and years of corrupt emergency rule. All in a country where the relevance of the Arab nationalism of the 1950's and 1960's is in the past, and largely irrelevant to the real life lives of the Egyptian people.

The title, and the building which is the foci of the novel, is a name and a building with non-Egyptian/Arabic name and an origin in a more cosmopolitan and liberal Egypt of the past. The characters represent various sorts of Egyptian personality types in the downtown area: a rich homosexual, a potential aristocrat of the old pre-Nasir regime lapsed into decadence and stagnancy after falling from relevancy in the new regime, a rich "self made" owner of a chain of stores, one of which is in the ground floor of the Yacoubian Building, and on the roof, representatives of the new and also very poor Egypt: a young woman whose father has died and thus is forced to take a job which includes paid sexual harrassement to support her family, the son of the doorman who is dilligent in his studies and preparations to become a police officer, a servant in the building who is renting a shack on the roof of the building so he can set up a shirt-making store, and others.

What all these characters have in common is that each character makes some sort of dramatic leap from the status quo character portrayed the begining of the novel to some fate, either more promising or resulting in the character's fall from some sort of interim grace.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By publiuspen on January 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
For those interested in world events or the Middle East, I would recommend this book. It is a quick, enjoyable and often provocative read.

Clearly, parts of the book that deal with sexuality and physical intimacy are designed to shock and provoke readers. These topics and the way they are handled, however, are far less provocative to Western readers who generally live in more liberal societies. That being the case, it was very interesting to see the germination of a jihadist, as well as the inter-play of colonialism, fundamentalism and authoritarianism in modern Cairo. Mr. Aswany is a talented story-teller and social oberserver. I also liked the ending, which demonstrated real optimism and the belief in finding truth and happiness despite troublesome surroundings.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robert E. Bower on January 11, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Yacoubian Building: A Novel provides the Western reader with an unfamiliar view of Arab culture. The characters of the story are artfully woven into a cohesive fabric with the aging Yacoubian Building in Cairo's old district forming the pillar around which their lives are wrapped. The metamorphesis of the young working class college student into A fundamentalist radical is a lucid revelation of how people can be changed incrementally from ordinary to extreme. A worthwhile read.
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