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Faithful to the excellent book
on February 17, 2008
Two summers ago while I was binge reading international literature I was led to a book titled The Yacoubian Building by Alaa el-Aswany, an Egyptian dentist. Written in Arabic in 2002, with an English translation in 2004, it is an incredible book. It is set in Cairo in the early 1990's. My initial interest was that it was reported to be the first Egyptian best-seller with a gay main character, and even a gay bar. It is so much more.
Last night (2/16/2008) I watched the movie version of the book, now available with English subtitles. They did a remarkable job of faithfully bringing this vast and complicated story to screen.
The character Taha, led to fundamentalist extremism by the corruption and despair of the day, should be of most interest to an American audience, his movie portrayal being neither harsh, nor sympathetic, just a representation of a generation, as a defining statement of fact.
The characters of Zaki and Haj serve to put the story into a historical perspective that is unknown to most in the West, yet with a plotline of political corruption that should be universally recognized by any student of history.
There are several main characters who are women, reflecting the entire spectrum of personal emancipation. Yet, I could not begin to analyze the story from a feminist perspective; there is just too much material there for me to digest.
My one and only criticism of the movie is its portrayal of the gay character, Hatim Rasheed, a newspaper editor. Apparently, to not make the movie even longer than it is, developing the Hatim role is shortchanged to give viewers only the sensational, an error not made in el-Aswany's book.
That said, the book and the movie should be on the reading list for those of us confused and anguished by the Islamic world - it is not an answer, but it partial explanation.