The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al Aswany
Built in the 1930s, the Yacoubian Building is a venerable monument in downtown Cairo, built for the time when mostly foreigners lived and worked there. It’s not really a residential building, but several of tenants live there in offices and a wide variety of the lower classes live and work in one-room cubicles on the roof. There’s the doorman whose son has met all the requirements for the police academy but is not accepted because his father is a doorman, there’s the fading aristocrat (son of a prime minister in the distant past) who has an office there where he meets the women, the appreciation of whom has become his profession—and his servant and his brother who run a small business on the roof. There’s the politician who buys his way into parliament—and the king-maker who helps him. There’s a journalist in love with a young policeman from Upper Egypt and a girl who lives on the roof and is driven to work by the death of her father—when the only work her commercial degree gets her comes with an elderly boss who wants to fondle her. There are two widows with small children who make second marriages as a way of surviving, one the widow of a terrorist who seeks a husband in the terrorist camp and the other agrees to be the secret second wife who’s not allow to have any more children. Their stories are intertwined, and the social criticism is applied on the one hand with detachment and bits of humor but increasingly with gritty realism as lives explode.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the film. Check out the movie trailer.