|Biographical detail : ||An gaint of Egyptian life and letters.
The man whose voice has captivated the Arabs is a Cairo dentist and novelist, Alaa al-Aswany whose novel ‘The Yacoubian Building’ (Imarat Yaacoubian) is a phenomenon.
His second best-selling novel in the Middle East ‘The Yacoubian Building’ was published in 2002. The novel sold out within 4 weeks and became the Arab world’s No 1 bestseller for 5 successive years; selling more than 250,000 copies in a region where print-run seldom exceed 3,000. The book’s success spread to 23 other languages.
The novel was an inspiration for the biggest budget movie ever produced in Egypt, in 2006. It also became an Egyptian television serial in 2007.
‘Imarat Yaacoubian’ is set at the time of the 1990 Gulf war. The novel paints a poignant and uncompromising picture of life in modern Cairo, as seen through the eyes of a carnival of characters – from the richest and most powerful to the poorest – and the forces that plague it; ruthless profiteering, political corruption and prejudice, police torture and Islamic extremism.
In his latest novel, Chicago (2008), set around a Chicago campus, where al-Aswany spent two years on a scholarship to study dentistry in the mid-1980s. The focus is on Arab expatriates. The novel explores the interweaving lives of a group of Egyptian students and professors, residing in the US, trying to find their bearings in a post-9/11 America. The book has sold more than 120,000 copies in Arabic and an English translation in 2008.
Al-Aswany has written prolifically for Egyptian newspapers on literature, politics and social issues. He highlights “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,” as rampant in Egypt.
In late 2011, al-Aswany has released an essay collection: “On the State of Egypt. What Made the Revolution inevitable.”