The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany

TYBFour of our group have been to Cairo and have fond memories. Since then there was been the so-called Arab Spring and this book acts as a living metaphor for a Culture at a Crossroads. The story has several layers of Middle Eastern society and culture and shows the old power living with the existing and the want-a-be next generation. None are pure of heart and when closely examined all are corrupt in one way or another.

Tawfikiya Square is a busy fruit and veg market with tourists milling around until the early hours

Suleiman Basha St with its S. Pasha mosque in the Citadel with a pencil minaret and lots of domes, busy roads and roofs that are never finished for tax avoidance purposes are here.

El Mohandiseen, like Hollywood, with its grand architecture, laid out in the 1960s for ‘Engineers’ City, a pharonic style McDonald’s and Medinat Nasr – embassies, concrete and roads (where I stayed, over the bridge and near Zamalek

Taha: takes a cab to a police interview to avoid spoiling his suit on buses, his jeans fake, he is no longer subservient, his dress has changed and also his beard, he is selling religious books and worried that Busayana is not impressed by his religious group. He is tortured by police including rape with a baton, offered an arranged marriage with the widow of a martyr, where the sex goes well, his new wife discourages him from seeking martyrdom and tells him to be patient. He shoots the policeman who ordered his torture and feels sorry for him

Sheikh: is able to talk about sex and says it is wrong to be accused of puritanism

Chez nous:  is typical of alternative venues here. Its manager keeps things low-key, there is air-conditioning, prostitution and different social classes

Busayna: Men are rubbing against her on buses so she feels unable to pray as unclean

Mr. Talal: is an abusive store employer who uses the storeroom as his playpen.

Zaki:  is an ageing playboy, a symbol of old Cairo, who couldn’t report theft as the bar where he worked is run by criminals. The police accuse him of incest as he lived with his sister, is offered a chance to bribe them so that the serial number of the charge is lost so that the bureaucracy cannot deal with it. He marries

Kamal el Fouri: is a vicar of Bray politician who rigs elections

Kalid: introduces Zaki to Islamist group – Egypt is not truly Islamic. I have been to the Anas ibn Malik mosque near Tahrir Square which has recently become so famous for demonstrations.  Liberation Square is the public transport terminus, now tightly hemmed in by buildings and flyovers.

The Nile Hilton, the Arab league building and the Egyptian Museum feature, as does the  McDonald’s where I had ice cubes in my coke, having zealously avoided drinking tap water for an entire fortnight to avoid stomach upset. Fortunately, I survived.

Hatim: is editor of a newspaper who stereotypes the sorts of jobs homosexuals are attracted to.

Abduh: is worried that he cannot pray after night with Hatim and alcohol, he is violent in his love-making with wife to expunge homosexuality. Aged 24, he believes in fate and destiny and Hatim tells him that he wouldn’t work for police if he was educated

Hagg: has 2 wives, is wealthy and wants to get into politics

The Building is a symbol of Egypt, its corruption and its different types of people

A niggle about spelling – Hagg should be hajj.

We liked this book so much that we later met to watch the film based on it.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] We discussed the book in May 2009 […]

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