Alaa al-Aswani [ Egypt ]
Alaa al-Aswani was born in Cairo in 1957. The son of a writer and lawyer, he grew up in a liberal home, where well-known literati came and went freely. He attended the French secondary school in Cairo and studied dentistry at the university there and later at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is still practising this profession. In 1990 he published his first collection of short stories. In addition, he became an editor of the literary section of the magazines »Al-Ahali« and »Al-Shaab«. He later wrote political articles for the Nasserist newspaper »Al-Arabi« and joined the oppositional movement »Kifaya« (Enough).
At the time, his first novel, »Imarat Ya’quobian« (2002; Eng. »The Yacoubian Building«, 2004), had already been published. The centre of Cairo, Wust al-Balad, in particular the Yacoubian flats, where al-Aswani had a dental practice for many years is the setting for the many intertwined strands in the plot. It is presented as an Egyptian microcosm and stands as testimony to a country’s cultural decay. Under the roof – upon which the poor, servants and immigrants from the countryside live in shacks – the well-to-do pursue their lives in business and passion. The office of an aristocratic landowner serves as his love nest, a homosexual Editor-In-Chief gratifies and hides his inclinations, a second wife is kept happy with a flat of her own. After a young man’s application is rejected by the police academy because his father is a doorman, he turns to Islamic fundamentalism. With linguistic dexterity and humour, al-Aswani touches upon provocative themes and social taboos: political corruption, everyday violence, feigned sexual morals and insurmountable class barriers. After being made into a film that was successful with audiences and festivals internationally the novel itself entered the ranks of the bestseller lists in France and Italy. In Egypt, the book’s twelfth edition has been published.
Al-Aswani’s second novel »Šîkâgû« (2006; Eng. »Chicago«, 2007) deals with the co-existence of different cultures, and depicts anew the injustices of the author’s home country under autocratic rule. The action is set in the Histological Institute at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where Americans from different backgrounds cross paths with Egyptians. Their North African home country – abandoned by the immigrants to the U.S. in pursuit of illusions and the hope of a better future – remains the root of their culture and is ever-present for them. Through the figure of the secret service, the shadow of the Egyptian state pursues them.
Al-Aswani’s novels have been translated into twenty languages. The author has been distinguished with several awards, including the Prix Roman du Var, the Bruno Kreisky Prize and most recently the Rückert Prize, from the city of Coburg. He lives with his family in Cairo.
© international literature festival berlin