The Yacoubian Building
Alaa Al Aswany
The Yacoubian building in Cairo is home to a diverse range of inhabitants, from the wealthy and powerful to the poor families living on the roof who struggle to make ends meet. By telling all of their stories in parallel, Alaa Al Aswany's novel has become a bestseller in the Middle East and earned enthusiastic comparisons to Tales of the City. Overall, the tone feels somewhat darker to that of its alleged Western counterpart, likely due to the themes of poverty, state-sanctioned torture and Islamic militants. The wide range of characters keep the reader's attention, from a gay newspaper editor who maintains a relationship with a young soldier by means of financial incentives to a young woman who becomes resigned to providing her employers with sexual services in order to remain in work and an aspiring politician with a secret second wife. However, the language is overly flowery on occasion, and the passage of time somewhat vaguely conveyed. Perhaps the sheer number of characters prevents the reader from becoming sufficiently invested in them, but although the end result may not qualify as a masterpiece, it remains an enjoyable read. [Nine]
Out now. Published by Fourth Estate. Cover price Ã‚Â£14.99 hardback.