Brenna's Reviews > The Yacoubian Building

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany
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's review
Mar 01, 2012

really liked it
Read in January, 2011

I actually read this back during the political upheaval in Egypt, and it was very apropos. The novel centers on interconnected lives of the residents of the Yacoubian building in Cairo (a place that actually exists, though al Aswany fictionalizes details of the building and its residents), but it’s much more a work of social commentary rather than just a work of fiction. The book highlights the wide social disparities between the wealthy elite, who have posh offices and apartments in the Yacoubian building, and the poor underclass, who live in tin-roofed shacks on the roof that were originally built to be storage units.

The political system is depicted as intensely corrupt, with powerful figures determining who will receive party nominations based on who provides the largest bribes. Religion plays dual roles as a means for the upper class to gain political power and as a last resort for the oppressed to find a sense of purpose in a world with no opportunities for advancement. One young man in the story becomes indoctrinated in radical Islam after the future he has worked for his whole life is taken away from him based on his socioeconomic background, and I found myself empathizing, and for the first time truly understanding the connection between imperialism, oppression and terrorism.

All in all, this novel is a stellar example of how a work of fiction can be the best form of truth. After reading it, I felt like I had a much better understanding of the socioeconomic and political structure in Egypt that led to the governmental overthrow. The stories of the characters in the novel are representative of the lives of actual people in Egypt, and through learning about these fictional lives, I was left with the hope that the lives of the actual citizens of Egypt will now have a much brighter trajectory.

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