The Yacoubian Building

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The Yacoubian Building

Post by Rohan on Fri Jun 01, 2012 9:51 pm

I was hoping to start some discussion about a really important topic Stefanie raised, which is the presentation of the gay characters in the novel. I understood (I think) the novel's emphasis on the social pressures and stigmas and risks for them, but there was another level of commentary that seemed very stereotyping to me, especially the division into passive and active, and then the specific example Stefanie brings up of Idris and his influence. I had trouble discerning what was Al Alswany's narrative commentary and what was indirect recounting of general social assumptions, including pejorative ones. I thought Hatim's relationship with Abduh was quite touching, especially his wish that they could just feel free and happy to love one another. I guess for me that ultimately seemed to be where the sympathies of the novel were: with openness towards love, wherever it's found (as with Busayna and Zaki). Still, the opening parts of the novel especially made me uncomfortable. Thoughts?

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Re: The Yacoubian Building

Post by Stefanie on Sat Jun 02, 2012 2:49 pm

I agree that ultimately the novel wants us to be sympathetic to Hatim and Abduh, that love is love even between two people of the same sex. And since it is my understanding that homosexuality is not really acceptable in Egyptian society, I thought it was well done that Aswany did not make these characters bad people but just regular people.

I think Abduh sort of complicates the relationship because I am not sure he is really gay or if he is, in many ways, like the women in the book, submitting to a man with wealth and power in order to get something for himself and his family. On the other hand, Abduh really could be gay and married and had children because that was what was expected and he was trying to be "normal." In which case, Hatim and Abduh's relationship takes on an interesting nuance as Abduh struggles and fails to accept who he is. But Aswany doesn't make Abduh's position clear which makes the relationship rather murky.

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Re: The Yacoubian Building

Post by Litlove on Thu Jun 07, 2012 11:40 am

I felt that Abduh was gay, but that given its criminal status in Egypt, he could not accept his sexuality. I felt he would not have reacted with such violent shame when his child died, if his heart hadn't been in it, as it were, if it had been a simple corrupt transaction of the kind that seemed entirely everyday and commonplace in the culture.

I'm so sorry that illness has prevented me taking more part in this month's Slaves' choice. I enjoyed the book and found it an interesting portrayal of a country under a painfully repressive regime. Plus it made me think about the recent revolution that took place, and how even more extraordinary it was, given the cruelty and the oppression that the people had been living under. Although what will happen now, whether those old structures of extremism and oppression will return is a moot point.

Rohan, I noticed too that this discussion forum is dwindling as part of what we do (there was very little discussion about the last book, either). Perhaps we should rethink what we use this for? Maybe we should read a book every other time, and put up a general topic for discussion here on other occasions?

(Completely off topic, I've been meaning to drop you a line, somewhere, about the discussion that went on and on between me and the Amateur Reader on your site. I felt rather badly about it! You are so right that it's tone that gets to me. I have every respect for Tom as a reader, but can't abide the picky, aggressive tone he takes in comments. Why on earth fuss about the exact phrasing of something I've said when we could be talking about what Flaubert said? But anyway, I daresay he has his own reasons for reacting the way he does. Anyhow, another time I will use strategies to get out of that sort of discursive cul-de sac.....)

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Re: The Yacoubian Building

Post by Litlove on Thu Jun 07, 2012 12:59 pm

An extra thought with regard to our discussion space:

Perhaps we could consider alternating novels with small bits of literary criticism that we could discuss? I mean literary criticism in the broadest sense here - one of the lectures on literature by Nabokov, or a chapter from Susan Gilbert's recent book Rereading Women, as much as a piece of Stanley Fish or Roland Barthes.

But maybe that sounds too much like school and hard work - I'd quite understand if it did!

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Re: The Yacoubian Building

Post by Rohan on Sat Jun 09, 2012 9:48 pm

I just bought rereading women and would be glad to try maybe reading a chapter from it as a companion piece to a novel or author relevant to the chapter or something like that--maybe The Secret Garden, just one idea.

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