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The Yacoubian Building

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  17,934 ratings  ·  1,477 reviews
This controversial bestselling novel in the Arab world reveals the political corruption, sexual repression, religious extremism, and modern hopes of Egypt today.

All manner of flawed and fragile humanity reside in the Yacoubian Building, a once-elegant temple of Art Deco splendor now slowly decaying in the smog and bustle of downtown Cairo: a fading aristocrat and self-proc
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 1st 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published 2002)
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Susan My favorite was Busayna because I could very slightly identify with some of her predicament in the workplace (from long, long ago). She had practicali…moreMy favorite was Busayna because I could very slightly identify with some of her predicament in the workplace (from long, long ago). She had practicality and perseverance despite her setbacks. She accepted her responsibility to take care of her family despite the small ability she had as a woman to provide for them. She was annoyed by Taha's unwillingness to accept life as it was, and she recognized love when it came, no matter how strange a place it came from. I had sympathy for Taha in the beginning but his inability to accept and adapt is an annoying quality found in many men who put pride before life, where women most often shoulder the burden and keep on going. (less)

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Average rating 3.68  · 
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 ·  17,934 ratings  ·  1,477 reviews

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I nearly tossed this into the nearest patch of long grass, as I got so thoroughly sick of the descriptions of boobs and buttocks, so impatient with the fact that ALL the women fell into only two categories: young and therefore luscious and desirable, or old, and therefore no longer desirable. Worst of all is old and skinny - and yes, it says a LOT about me that I'm particularly sensitive to this - because old and skinny means you turn into a screeching termagant. (Somebody better wa
Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those trying to make sense of the Middle East
Recommended to Tyler by: _An Egyptian
Shelves: gay-interest
Narrators tell stories; protagonists tell them; characters in novels do, too. But in The Yacoubian Building, an apartment complex on a downtown street tells the story of a whole nation. This ten-story structure, I found, has a lot to say.

The building doesn't talk, of course, but it shelters the many people whose lives the book recounts. Brought together only by their place of residence, these very different people are, by the end, brought together in a second way, by the common experience of lif
Dawn Bates
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read this book twice now. Once before coming to Egypt and again this summer, having lived in Egypt for two years.

The first time I read it, I truly believed that the situations that happened within it were exaggerated for artistic license. Now? It's all true. No artistic license needed. Just straight forward truth. I see so many of these things happening, and many more besides.

Al Aswany's depiction of Egyptian life, his clever way of writing about Egypt's elite and corrupt, making sure reade
César Lasso
Apr 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It reminded me of Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz in the sense that the author takes an area (an alley in Cairo in the case of Mahfouz, a building in al-Aswani's book) and portrays the lives and souls of the varied characters connected to it. But the author didn't feel as a cheap imitator of Mahfouz --he had his own talent and originality.

It is funny that I read it while the Egyptian revolution of February 2011 was going on. The book gave me an insight into the contemporary Egyptians' lives and pr
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jun 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Rima
A handful of intertwining stories all passing through The Yacoubian Building in downtown Cairo, I read this in one plane trip from Texas to SC. I couldn't put it down! And not just for the sexual content, which I'm sure is the reason half the people who read this pick it up. Controversial in Egypt? Oh my! It has interesting insight into relationships of all kinds - homosexual men in a society that may look the other way if they like you enough, women who marry to support their families, and the ...more
Nandakishore Varma
Egypt is in the news today for all the wrong reasons. But when I witness the turmoil there, I perceive a silver lining: this is the birth pain of a true democracy.

I have had a lifelong love affair with Egypt, ever since I studied about pharaohs and the pyramids and hieroglyphics in middle school. I have seen the similarity with India, the paradox of being immensely rich culturally and dirt poor monetarily. Visiting the country had been my secret dream, which was realised three years ago.

I read t
Jacob Overmark
I guess Alaa Al Aswany owes some to Naguib Mahfouz.

I could recognize the Cairo I visited many years ago, and even as a stranger in a strange city it gave me a warm feeling.

Considering the melting pot Cairo is, it is not at all strange to find a house with a number of so diverse inhabitants - but Alaa Al Aswany uses it as an instructor would use the scene; presenting a time when everything you used to know is breaking up - and yet unchanged.

There is a lot of love for his countrymen, but also poli
Mark Rizk Farag
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was a lot better than I expected and managed to narrate a lot of extremely difficult and taboo topics (in accordance with Egyptian/Islamic norms), without passing judgement or creating cartoonishly evil characters. Even the characters one finds abhorrent are genuinely sympathetic. It helped me understand views and perspectives completely alien to me and gave me a slightly better understanding of Egyptian society. Also, somewhat entertaining.
Jul 27, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookcrossing, egypt
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim Fonseca
Oct 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
A soap opera story of the people who live in a Cairo mid-rise apartment building. We have all walks of life from the super wealthy in suites to the down and out who constitute a mini-community of rooftop dwellers, and hangers-out at a gay bar in the basement of the building. The book gives us a wealth of information about life in Cairo. We learn of the many foreigners who live in the city, many Christians, and how almost everyone manages to evade traditional Muslim norms. People drink and smoke. ...more
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
It's Cairo, and nearby the US is launching it's invasion into Kuwait.
The author was a dentist and he fills his book with the lives of the occupants of the Yacoubian Building. The poor live on the roof, the rich in once luxury apartments that are now showing signs of wear and tear. The author drills into the lives, extracting all of the sins of humanity. He also uses one character to talk about the rise of Islamic supporters who wish to rid the country of all of it's corruption and Western ways.
David Lentz
Jun 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this novel, received as a Christmas gift, shortly after returning from a business trip in the Mideast. I was moved by its poignant sense of perspective, the elegant beauty of both the writing and the translation and the heart-wrenching grief that I found within its modest number of pages. The words leapt off every page as the tragedies emerged of characters whose chief links among each other had to do with their various and sundry connections to their dwelling place, an old building in Ca ...more
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, fiction, middle-east
Let’s put it this way: I was not at all surprised to learn that the author is a dentist.
Jun 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The writer has the ability to steal the reader and race him with his lines. He keeps firm grip on the reader's mind...even when you leave the book you keep thinking about the events and when will you go back to read more. You can live easily inside his story lines.

I have not seen the movie but I've seen some of the tv episodes, and i think the book is much much more exciting.

I'm thinking of buying the English version to compare it with the original Arabic versions...also I look forward to readin
Anastasia Hobbet
Nov 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
I'd heard so much about this novel that I expected more--not more in terms of story, because there's lots of meaty story in this book--but more in terms of imagery, lyricism, and in-depth character portrayal. The single character who truly stole my heart is the old swain Zaki Bey al-Dessouki, who reminds me warmly of the endearing and penniless old Prince Yakimov in Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy. An Egyptian acquaintance who reads a lot of literature in English and Arabic told me that Egyptian ...more
J.M. Hushour
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Having read quite a bit of Middle Eastern literature over the years (including this one long ago), I'm always wary of and struck by the ubiquitous themes that dominate the genre. If they aren't harping on European colonialism, then they're complaining about the Israelis! That's why it is always refreshing to find a novel that is just simply about people and, sure, yeah, those perennial themes are always lurking there somewhere in the background, but what moves me most in novels is the ability fo ...more
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: e-read

Al Aswany uses a building as the organizing principle of this well populated book. Each character inhabits a different part of the building and lives a different thread of the story. The pacing takes some delightful cues from that of Egyptian soap operas with a small cliffhanger at the end of each part. This does not become disjointed because the stories are woven from good strong skeins, twisty and brightly dyed. Some get snapped.
Like all the best Egyptian stories, this one ends with a weddin
Book Concierge
My book club selected this book. It's an interesting look at modern-day Egyptian culture / society. The confusing case of characters made it difficult for me to read, though.
Ismail Elshareef
Oct 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is Egypt. Its past of glorified and often lamented early 20th-Century grandeur as well as its present of turbulence and increasing desperation and repressiveness are artfully laid out for the reader to analyze, contemplate and invariably pity in this impressive literary work. This is Egypt that everyone knows well but rather not talk about.

The book captures the collective moral and physical destitution of the post-1970s Egyptian society like no other book has; at least none that I have eve
Autumn Futch
Mar 31, 2018 rated it liked it
I don't know how a book manages to cover so many triggering, inappropriate, and grotesque topics in less than 250 pages, but this one does it. Though difficult to read at times--cringing at the flippant coverage of problematic issues, stepping away for a few days after the truly triggering imagery--this book offers insight about the decade before the revolution, the societal standards that still plague Egypt, and the lives of those merely trying to scrape by, reconciling their sins and their dev ...more
Dec 18, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was ok! Ok..he's got some style in writing..but he adores employing the sex such a disgusting way! Even such issues can be tackled gracefully...not in such manners! Plus, this is not a true mirror of the Egyptian society and its malaise..yes I agree that the societal diseases are symbolised in the pervert sexual acts whether : banned sex, pervert spouses, homosexuality, whores, rape... but still..what I argue for..does that novel deserve to be Egypt's modern portrayal all over the ...more
Feb 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Within this relatively small community Al Aswany tells us much about life in Egypt. Among the things we discover are the sad narrowness of poor Egyptian women's choices, the courage required of each small life, the meanness and cruelty required of every big life and the simple longing for warmth and basic dignities shared by every individual. Al Aswany recounts the various forms that its frustration can take; compassionately. Everyday poetry underpins tragic and comic situations alike. The prose ...more
Umut Rados
Nov 15, 2017 rated it liked it
I like reading from authors around the world sometimes meeting different countries, cultures, and writing styles. I really enjoyed this book. And I gave 3 stars instead of 4 just because I was expecting a bit more motion and a better closure to each of the stories, which didn't happen in the end. However, I very much enjoyed the book. I liked the fact that there were so many different characters, and events happening in the same building, but separately. The pace was good most of the time. It wa ...more
Al Aswany drops the reader into the middle of an Egyptian apartment building and the several characters and story lines that emanate from this location. It's immersive and immediately pulls you in to the characters' lives. The story lines alone are engaging, but together they also provide a kind of window on modern Egyptian society and the inherent contradictions of life.
Sotiris Karaiskos
An excellent mapping of Egyptian society a few decades ago through some parallel stories centered on a building in Cairo. In this building, which resembles a metaphor of Egypt itself, people from different classes coexist, with different mentalities, religious beliefs and moral principles. All of them, each from his or her side, try to do the best they can to create their personal happiness, making great efforts and equally great sacrifices, with different levels of success or failure. But they ...more
Blaine DeSantis
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this book which contains snapshots of some of the residents of the Yacoubian Building, and once we are introduced to them we follow them for a period of time. Sex is big in this book, but not graphic sex, but rather sex seems to be pervasive in the lives of many of the residents, so do not let that put you off on this book. We are introduced to a young man trying to become a police officer, Islamic extremists, politicians, businessmen and schemers. Also some very nice women who ma ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018, own
Weaving together the stories of various inhabitants of a grand building in Cairo from different walks of life - rich and poor, young and old, male and female, straight and gay -, this beautifully written novel explores life in Egypt in all manner of facets. A tale that easily drew me in and kept me reading.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2019-reads
Book club
Ahmed Osama Saad
Set in the early 2000s in Cairo, the novel tells the story of daily struggles, class differences, religious fanaticism and life under dictatorship in an Egypt that is fighting with the Americans in the first Iraq war.

There are many diverse characters. Their commonality is only that they have a tie to the Yacoubian building, where the wealthy live in grand old apartments and the poor live in a community of shacks on the roof. Their lives intersect in expected and unexpected twists and turns.

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علاء الأسواني

Alaa al-Aswany (Arabic: علاء الأسواني‎), Egyptian Arabic (Masri) "علاء الاسوانى" (born 1957) is an Egyptian writer, and a founding member of the political movement Kefaya.

Trained as a dentist in Egypt and Chicago, it took him 9 years to earn his degree from Chicago National University where he spent 17 years in his life, al-Aswany has contributed numerous articles to Egyptian newspape

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