It’s hard to find popular Arabic (or Middle Eastern in general) novels translated into English, which makes the Alaa Al Aswany’s Yacoubian Building a perfect opportunity to read an Arabic novel. Aswany is the most famous Egyptian novel of the modern era and this novel in particular drew strong criticism for its unflinchingly honest portrayal of modern Egyptian society. The novel is set in modern Egypt and uses a variety of characters to expose the corruption, religious fundamentalism and disillusionment of modern Egypt. In the backdrop of the Mubarak administration and the political upheaval of the last year this 2002 seems all the more prescient.
The novel features dozens of interwoven characters richly portrayed by Aswany, with each storyline highlighting a different indiscretion of Egyptian society. It easily stands up to the best English novels of the past decade and is necessary reading for anyone wishing to expand their literary horizons beyond the western world.