“The Yacoubian Building”: Egypt’s Contemporary Social Novel and a Precursor to the Egyptian Revolution

By Salma Ghanem.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

“The Yacoubian Building”, a novel by Alaa al Aswany written in 2002, can be described as an Egyptian social novel. In the same genre of Naguib Mahfouz’s writing about Egypt in the 50s, Al Aswany writes about Egyptian society half a century later. Once considered a luxury establishment when built in the 1930s, this rundown building houses the poor in makeshift homes on the roof to the wealthy in the apartments on the various floors. The novel vividly illustrates struggles Cairenes endure dealing with the corruption and difficulties of contemporary society. Economic survival forces several characters in the novel to engage in unwanted sexual relations, and pushes others to participate in the terrorist activities of Islamic extremists. Political ambitions and sexual desires lead to abuse of power and hypocritical actions. Now in its ninth edition, this novel vividly portrays the corruption, poverty and contradictions in modern day Egypt. The book provides its Egyptian readers with a deeper understanding of their society and provides non-Egyptians with an excellent portrait of the multifaceted layers and complexities that only a social novel can do. This paper will provide an analysis of the book in the light of contemporary Egyptian society.

Keywords: Egypt, Social Novel, Contemporary Society

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.63-72. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 218.825KB).

Dr. Salma Ghanem

Dean, College of Communication and Fine Arts, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, USA

Salma Ghanem is currently a professor and the dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University. Prior to joining Central Michigan University, she served as chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Texas Pan American for eight years. She holds a Ph.D. in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.