Yacoubian Building

PEN PROMOTES white on black




The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

Translated from Arabic by Humphrey Davies

Published by Fourth Estate,Feb 2007

Read an extract here

A mesmerising and controversial novel that is at once an impassioned celebration and a ruthless dissection of a society dominated by bribery and corruption.


Time and again Aswany has been criticised and censored for presuming to express opinions and create characters who call the country’s political set-up into question but he refuses to be silenced. Above all, he believes in democracy and freedom, and this vital novel dares to show that. The fact that The Yacoubian Building has sold over 100,000 copies and been the bestselling book in the Arabic language for four years is demonstrative of how very essential Aswany’s writing is.





Alaa Al Aswany is a journalist who writes a monthly opposition newspaper column. He makes his living as a dentist in Cairo, where his first office was in the Yacoubian Building.


The Yacoubian Building – once great, now dilapidated – stands on one of Cairo’s main boulevards. Taha, the doorman’s son, aspires to become a policeman; he passes all his exams but is rejected because his family is neither rich nor influential. His girlfriend, Busyana, is unable to earn a living without providing sexual services for the men who hire her.


Taha’s trajectory from innocence to tragedy is orbited by the other inhabitants of the building. From the womanising aristocrat to the homosexual editor of Le Caire newspaper, all of the contradictions in Egyptian society are here. Religious feelings live side by side with promiscuity; bribery and exploitation alternate with moments of joy and elation; modernity clashes with a vision of a more ancient society.


Thursday 8 February, 6.30pm

Alaa Al Aswany – The Yacoubian Building

The Gallery at Foyles, 113-119 Charing Cross Road

Alaa Al Aswany discusses his extraordinary novel that is at once an impassioned celebration and a ruthless dissection of a society dominated by bribery and corruption. The Yacoubian Building is a phenomenon in the Arab World. It has been the best-selling novel in the Middle East for two years and the inspiration for the highest-budget Arabic-language film ever, which was released to much acclaim in 2006.


Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersintranslation/supportedtitles/yacoubianbuilding/

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