Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Yacoubian Building

Alaa Al Aswany. The Yacoubian Building. NY: Harper Perennial, 2006.

R. Stuhr

This book is currently on display at Burling Library as part of our display of summer reading recommended by staff. Cecilia Knight recommended this along with the trio of books published posthumously by Stieg Larsson. I just finished this book too, and so these comments are mine. Written about Cairo during the time leading up to the first Iraq war, Alaa Al Aswany touches on the history and politics of Egypt, regional differences, the intensification of Islamic identity that goes beyond nationalism or simply religious ferver, the extensive gap between rich and poor, political corruption, the plight of women, individual hopes and dreams, and dashed hopes and dreams. The author, in his narrative, crosses back and forth among the stories of a range of characters, the privileged and the underprivileged. Although a dark story, it is also romantic and in the end the purest of hearts finds some happiness.

This book, in some ways, also tells the story of the twenty-first century, with one of the shaping factors of this century being the rise of fundamentalist Islam. In reading about the limitations of one society, we can recognize some of the same failings in our own society, the importance of influence (oil, pharmaceuticals two name just two for instance) and money in politics, the treatment and expectations for women, the widening gap between rich and poor... we are all implicated.

Despite my representation, this is definitely a recommended read for summer or anytime. Burling library has both the book (currently on display) and the film (wander down to the listening room).

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