The Yacoubian Building
Alaa Al Aswany
First sentence: The distance between Baehler Passage, where Zaki Bey el Dessouki lives, and his office in the Yacoubian Building is not more than a hundred meters, but it takes him an hour to cover it each morning as he is obliged to greet his friends on the street.
Reflections: Zaki Bey is an aging, wealthy playboy living in Cairo, and just one of the many colorful and interesting characters who have some association with the building that gives the book its name. Some, like Zaki, have offices in the building. Others live in luxury apartments. And there is an entire community living on the roof, in low-rent apartments that once served as storage. This diversity makes for an interesting account of contemporary Egyptian culture.
The strength of this book is its characterizations. Zaki Bey is flamboyant and wealthy, and goes through elaborate rituals to prepare himself to entertain women in his apartment / office. His servant, Abaskharon, lives on the roof with his brother. Also living on the roof are Busayna, a beautiful young woman, and Taha, a devout Muslim man in love with Busayna. Hagg Muhammad Azzam is a rather slimy businessman and politician who manipulates everyone around him for personal gain, and Hatim Rasheed is a gay newspaper editor struggling to find happiness. For the most part, the characters' lives are not linked in any way, but each person's story progresses a few pages at a time, sometimes stopping at logical points and at other times with a bit of a cliffhanger.
The people portrayed in The Yacoubian Buildilng are all ordinary people, living ordinary lives within their social class, and striving for self-actualization. This is important reading for Americans, to counteract the media's typical portrayal of all middle eastern people as evil. ( )
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