When 19 year old Ruby decides that she has had enough of her life in London, she runs away to her grandmother Iris’s home in Cairo. As Ruby falls in love with Cairo, Iris is in ill health and fears that she is losing her memories of wartime Cairo and the soldier she fell in love with, who lost his life in World War II. As we learn the story of Iris and Xan Molyneaux, we also see Ruby growing up, forming a relationship of her own and bonding with her grandmother.
I really enjoyed this book. As well as being a retrospective love story (which is wonderfully told), it is also a story of Ruby’s own journey from a troubled and thoughtless teenager, to an intelligent and compassionate young woman. The story deals with love and heartbreak, fear and memory, and in particular, how the memory of one certain time in life, can affect all the times that come after it.
Cairo is vividly brought to life – both in the modern day and during World War II – and it was very easy to imagine how Ruby felt discovering the city for the first time. Reading the book made me want to visit there myself.
Although the love story between Iris and Xan is passionate and beautifully told, it is never cheesy or overly sentimental.
All of the characters were entirely believable – more so for not being perfect – and the writing is fantastic. I am determined to seek out more by this author.
Synopsis: The Yacoubian Building holds all that Egypt was and has become over the 75 years since its namesake was built on one of downtown Cairo’s main boulevards. From the pious son of the building’s doorkeeper and the raucous, impoverished squatters on its roof, via the tattered aristocrat and the gay intellectual in its apartments, to the ruthless businessman whose stores occupy its ground floor, each sharply etched character embodies a facet of modern Egypt — where political corruption, ill-gotten wealth, and religious hypocrisy are natural allies, where the arrogance and defensiveness of the powerful find expression in the exploitation of the weak, where youthful idealism can turn quickly to extremism, and where an older, less violent vision of society may yet prevail.Alaa Al Aswany’s novel caused an unprecedented stir when it was first published in 2002 and has remained the world’s best selling novel in the Arabic language since.
Review: Another window on another culture. ‘The Yacoubian Building’ focuses on the occupants of one building and spans many classes. It tells the story of 5 different main characters woven together coming to different conclusions. This was a good book, it was well written but personally I didn’t find it compelling although the stories took on a greater impetus as the book progressed. Incidentally this has been made into a film – released in the UK in September 2007.
LibraryThing rating: *****
Other Books I’ve Read By This Author: None – would possibly look out for others.
Reviewed by JudyB