Just who is the Arab world listening to? Not only radical sheikhs and militant politicians. The man whose voice has captivated the Arab public is a Cairo dentist by day and a novelist by dawn. Alaa Al Aswany’s novel The Yacoubian Building is a phenomenon—the best-selling novel in the Middle East for two years and the inspiration for the biggest budget movie ever produced in Egypt. 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. An outspoken critic of the Mubarak regime and a friendly, self-effacing man, Dr. Al Aswany studied dentistry, and the American way of life, in the U.S. He has a humanist’s love of pondering what makes people do what they do.
From Egypt, Alaa Al Aswany Listen to the May 22, 2011 broadcast of Eleanor Wachtel’s interview with Al Aswany at the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival in Montreal, where he won this year’s Blue Met Arab Literature Prize. Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building was one of the books we discussed as part of our October 2010 trip, Rocking the Cradle of Civilization: Egypt Then and Now.