Author: Athina Kappou

Undergraduate student, University of Athens,

Department of Turkish & modern Asian studies

Our story takes place in a historic building of Cairo, which becomes a common point of all of our parallel stories. This is –probably- the most famous book of the Egyptian writer Alaa Al Aswany. Through the book, we discover the stories and different lives of the people who lived in this famous building during 1970s. While they are completely different, the only thing that they have in common is their struggle to survive in a society that constantly changes.

Taha, Bosaina, Zaki and Hatim are our main heroes. Taha is the young son of the janitor, who’s dreaming of becoming a police officer. Even though he has successfully passed his exams in order to get accepted in the Police Academy, the Egyptian society takes away his chance only because he is just the son of a janitor… Thus, Taha turns into religion in order to find his purpose. Soon enough, he gets involved in terror acts, gets caught and raped by the police commander. When he gets out, he is seeking revenge but loses his life unjustifiably during a fight.

Bosaina is a poor girl who works here and there in order to provide a decent life for her mother and brothers. In her desperation she accepts a work offer in a clothing shop where the owner offers her more money if she satisfies his sexual requests. When she realizes that she can’t take this anymore, she quits. Soon after she meets Zaki an old ex-Pasha who has lost his glory and prestige and he is known for his love of women. He hires Bosaina as his assistant and between them a true love is born.

Hatim is a gay publisher of a famous French newspaper, who seeks for his new lover at nights. As time passes, Hatim will soon lose his life as a result of his choices…

Alaa Al Aswany depicts Egyptian society in a unique way, just as only Naguib Mahfouz once did. The building is the symbol of a declining society after the revolution of 1952, which affected everyone’s life no matter if they were rich or poor. The author gives us a short story about the building since the day it was built. Throughout the story we’re experiencing the transition of an era and the people who stayed in this symbolic building. On a personal note, Alaa Al Aswany’s book is one of my favorite because of its deeply true and human nature. His story gives us the opportunity to experience the life of a society away from our usual Western lifestyle. Everyone can connect with it just since all of us live in societies. When our societies go through changes, everyone’s life changes and all of us have to find a way to survive. Some of us will turn to religion, some others will search for that one night’s lover while others will search for money at any cost… Everyone will have to make a choice.

Alaa Al Aswany’s book turned into a movie in 2006 (the movie is available on YouTube. Its title is ‘’the Yacoubian building’’).