The Yacoubian Building

( 18 )

Overview

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-proclaimed "scientist of women"; a sultry, voluptuous siren; a devout young student, feeling the irresistible...

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The Yacoubian Building

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Overview

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-proclaimed "scientist of women"; a sultry, voluptuous siren; a devout young student, feeling the irresistible pull toward fundamentalism; a newspaper editor helplessly in love with a policeman; a corrupt and corpulent politician, twisting the Koran to justify his desires.

These disparate lives careen toward an explosive conclusion in Alaa Al Aswany's remarkable international bestseller. Teeming with frank sexuality and heartfelt compassion, this book is an important window on to the experience of loss and love in the Arab world.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
“...tremendously likable.... This vision of life connects high with low, rich with poor, through shared vices and needs.”
Nerve
“[A] hilarious, sensual, bawdy and beautiful novel.”
New York Review of Books
“Captivating and controversial .. . .an amazing glimpse of modern Egyptian society and culture.”
Lorraine Adams
Unlike Naguib Mahfouz’s predominant focus on Egypt’s 1950’s middle class, Aswany’s shifting searchlight brings out the far-reaching effects of abysmal governance on the most intimate corners of everyday life — for everyone.
— The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060878139
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/1/2006
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 267,221
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Alaa Al Aswany is the internationally bestselling author of The Yacoubian Building and Chicago. A journalist who writes a controversial opposition column, Al Aswany makes his living as a dentist in Cairo.

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Read an Excerpt

The Yacoubian Building

A Novel
By Alaa Al Aswany

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Alaa Al Aswany
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060878134

Chapter One

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. Clothingand shoe-store owners, their employees (of both sexes), waiters, cinema staff, habitues of the Brazilian Coffee Stores, even doorkeepers, shoeshine men, beggars, and traffic cops--Zaki Bey knows them all by name and exchanges greetings and news with them. Zaki Bey is one of the oldest residents of Suleiman Basha Street, to which he came in the late 1940s after his return from his studies in France and which he has never thereafter left. To the residents of the street he cuts a well-loved, folkloric figure when he appears before them in his three-piece suit (winter and summer, its bagginess hiding his tiny, emaciated body); with his carefully ironed handkerchief always dangling from his jacket pocket and always of the same color as his tie; with his celebrated cigar, which, in his glory days, was Cuban deluxe but is now of the foul-smelling, tightly packed, low-quality local kind; and with his old, wrinkled face, his thick glasses, his gleaming false teeth, and his dyedblack hair, whose few locks are arranged in rows from the leftmost to the rightmost side of his head in the hope of covering the broad, naked, bald patch. In brief, Zaki Bey el Dessouki is something of a legend, which makes his presence both much looked for and completely unreal, as though he might disappear at any moment, or as though he were an actor playing a part, of whom it is understood that once done he will take off his costume and put his original clothes back on. If we add to the above his jolly temperament, his unceasing stream of scabrous jokes, and his amazing ability to engage in conversation anyone he meets as though he were an old friend, we will understand the secret of the warm welcome with which everyone on the street greets him. Indeed Zaki Bey has only to appear at the top end of the street at around ten in the morning for the salutations to ring out from every side, and often a number of his disciples among the young men who work in the stores will rush up to him to ask him jokingly about certain sexual matters that remain obscure to them, in which case Zaki Bey will draw on his vast and encyclopedic knowledge of the subject to explain to the youths--in great detail, with the utmost pleasure, and in a voice audible to all--the most subtle sexual secrets. Sometimes, in fact, he will ask for a pen and paper (provided in the twinkling of an eye) so that he can draw clearly for the young men some curious coital position that he himself tried in the days of his youth.

Some important information on Zaki Bey el Dessouki should be provided. He is the youngest son of Abd el Aal Basha el Dessouki, the well-known pillar of the Wafd who was prime minister on more than one occasion and was one of the richest men before the Revolution, he and his family owning more than five thousand feddans of prime agricultural land.

Zaki Bey studied engineering in Paris. It had been expected, of course, that he would play a leading political role in Egypt using his father's influence and wealth, but suddenly the Revolution erupted and everything changed. Abd el Aal Basha was arrested and brought before the revolutionary tribunal and, though the charge of political corruption failed to stick, he remained in detention for a while and most of his possessions were confiscated and distributed among the peasants under the land reform. Under the impact of all this the Basha soon died, the father's misfortune leaving its mark also on the son. The engineering office that he opened in the Yacoubian Building quickly failed and was transformed with time into the place where Zaki Bey spends his free time each day reading the newspapers, drinking coffee, meeting friends and lovers, or sitting for hours on the balcony contemplating the passersby and traffic on Suleiman Basha.

It must be said, however, that the failure that Engineer Zaki el Dessouki has met with in his professional life should not be attributed entirely to the Revolution; it stems rather, at base, from the feebleness of his ambition and his obsession with sensual pleasure. Indeed his life, which has lasted sixty-five years so far, revolves with all its comings and goings, both happy and painful almost entirely around one word--women. He is one of those who fall completely and hopelessly into the sweet clutches of captivity of the female and for whom women are not a lust that flares up and, once satisfied, is extinguished, but an entire world of fascination that constantly renews itself in images of infinitely alluring diversity--the firm, voluptuous bosoms with swelling nipples like delicious grapes; the backsides, pliable and soft, quivering as though in anticipation of his violent assault from behind; the painted lips that drink kisses and moan with pleasure; the hair in all its manifestations (long, straight, and demure, or long and wild with disordered tresses, or medium-length, domestic and well-settled, or that short hair à la garçon that evokes unfamiliar, boyish kinds of sex). And the eyes . . . ah, how lovely are the looks from those eyes--honest or dissimulating and duplicitous; bold or demure; even furious, reproachful, and filled with loathing!

So much and even more did Zaki Bey love women. He had known every kind, starting with Lady Kamla, daughter of the former king's maternal uncle, with whom he learned the etiquette and rites of the royal bed chambers--the candles that burn all night, the glasses of French wine that kindle the flames of desire and obliterate fear, the hot bath before the assignation, when the . . .

Continues...


Excerpted from The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany Copyright © 2006 by Alaa Al Aswany. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2009

    Understanding what was, what is and what will be.

    For years I lived in Cairo and was surrounded by what could be called the Yocoubian Building culture. Upon opening this volume I was transported back to the former elegance of the downtown area, its transformation as the old elites changed and were superseded by the the new classes who moved across the river and then,most recently,away from the city itself and into the new suburbs.

    The individual's memory of the former grandeur and the country's saddness at the passing of the golden era of thier city is not confined to the pashas and the beys who lost much after the revolution. Even the upper Egyptian doormen and garage men believe that much as been lost. When asked what has been gained, they shrug their shoulders but say little.

    The author feels it all and tells it in a manner which depicts the strength of a sociey, the sadness and the endurance. His characterrs personify a certain stocism , the qualtiy which has managed to be the glue of the entire society. This book can teach us the value of ambivalence.

    This is a work which touched my deepest memories and impressions of a quarter century of being a guest in and a student of Egypt.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2008

    Fascinating portrayal of modern Egypt

    With characters from various backgrounds peppering the novel, this was a great 'slice of life' of modern Egypt. It was fascinating to see the characters, linked by this one place, how they interconnected and how culture and religion impacted their lives. The reader is instantly transported into another world in reading the novel, and it is truly a memorable journey.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2007

    Tender, tragic and touching perspective of life in Cairo

    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 Cairo. The stories were truly moving and every character was beautifully rendered and Al Aswany breathed life into them all with remarkable nuance, credibility, insight and empathy. Although his characters experience rough treatment at the hands of life in Egypt, the narrative remains tender and treats the reader as if he were a guest in the novelist's home. The language is simple but elgantly crafted and I don't know whether to give credit to author and/or translator but the team presented a beautifully published hardcover from the American University in Cairo Press. It was a joy to read this touching, sincere and genuine window into life in Cairo, such an articulate perspective of which is all too rare for those seeking to understand life amid the ancient turmoil of this often bewildering region. I was intrigued to find just how bewildering it is even to those who live there as well as to those who seek to understand it from a great distance. If anything will shed light across cultures so at variance, it is likely to be under the tent of art and music and creative literature that we may rightly hope and aspire to share a common oasis.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2010

    Love Love Love

    can't praise this book enough. Want to get all his other books. No wonder it has become a worldwide bestseller and so intriguing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    The book I enjoyed most in 2009

    Great story, exellent writing, very informative

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