3 must-read books from: Egypt

This article is also available in: Italiano

Our series dedicated to 3 “must to read” books continues, this week is Egypt’s turn with: Mahfuz, Al Aswani and Tawfiq

Small but necessary premise

This is not a ranking but a suggestion for those approaching these countries and areas of the world for the first time and is also linked to the personal taste of the author. Putting only 3 works (thus risking to leave out entire countries) was a very specific choice due to something that is often forgotten: books are not free. Our intent is to provide beginners and experts with 3 truly “indispensable” titles, which can thus allow them to enjoy a good text and / or discover something new, allowing them to only make “good” shopping.


Do you have different “must-sees”? We are very curious to know them, soon we will start 30 minutes / 1 hour direct starting from these lists; stay connected to receive news. We leave you to the list, good reads.

“Stories from Our Neighbourhood ” by Nagib Mahfuz

The chronicles of a neighborhood told through the everyday life of its inhabitants: the reality and fantasies of a world in which the arcana of oriental tradition and the subtle charm of European civilization interpenetrate. Reality as a representation of the events that mark the life of the district (the sounds and smells of the little streets, the views captured from the windows, the objects, the rumors and the feelings), and fantasy as an instrument of knowledge of the forms and essences that compose infinitely repeat, the cycle of birth, life and death.

nagib mahfuz

Mahfuz is a sacred monster and each of his books could be considered a wonderful fresco on Egypt, but this one sees the Gamaleya district, the beating heart of Cairo, as the protagonist and it was impossible not to put it. Furthermore, the text, thanks to its particular structure, is extremely smooth and varied, allowing the reader to discover the Egyptian soul at 360 °. A must for all lovers of this country and, in general, of literature.

“The Yacoubian Building ” by ‘Ala Al Aswani

A fading aristocrat and self-proclaimed ‘scientist of women.’ A purring, voluptuous siren. A young shop-girl enduring the clammy touch of her boss and hating herself for accepting the modest banknotes he tucks into her pocket afterward. An earnest, devout young doorman, feeling the irresistible pull toward fundamentalism. A cynical, secretly gay newspaper editor, helplessly in love with a peasant security guard. A roof-squatting tailor, scheming to own property. A corrupt and corpulent politician, twisting the Koran to justify taking a mistress. All live in the Yacoubian Building, a once-elegant temple of Art Deco splendor slowly decaying in the smog and hubbub of downtown Cairo, Egypt. In the course of this unforgettable novel, these disparate lives converge, careening inexorably toward an explosive conclusion. Tragicomic, passionate, shockingly frank in its sexuality, and brimming with an extraordinary, embracing human compassion, The Yacoubian Building is a literary achievement of the first order.


The best book by the best Egyptian writer of the new millennium. This sentence would be enough to explain the presence of “Palazzo Yacoubian” in this list, a text that has been able to tell better than any other the years “00 in Egypt. This period is crucial for our present, as the foundations of the “Arab Springs“, the last great moment of recovery for the southern Mediterranean. It will be precisely with the Mubarak government, in fact, that the Egyptians understood for the first time the inaction that surrounded their country, so much so that the book itself can be read as a sort of “fight against immobility”, which grasps citizens like quicksand. Also interesting is the way in which Al Aswani tells the radicalization of a future terrorist, a very current topic when the tetso (2002) was published. more today.

“Utopia” by Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq

A sad futurist account of Egyptian society in the year 2023, Utopia takes readers on a chilling journey beyond the gated communities of the north coast, where the rich are isolated from the desolation of life outside the walls. When a young man and a girl escape this bubble of well-being to be able to see for themselves the lives of their poor Egyptians, they are faced with a world they never imagined possible.


Probably the best Egyptian novel read this year. Utopia is a trip to Egypt that could be and that everyone is afraid to imagine but which is one step away from being fulfilled. An extremely smooth book, with characters characterized in an incredible way and a charge of emotions ready to explode page after page. I thought for a long time about which he could accompany “the two untouchables”, but frankly I would find it hard to imagine a better text than this. I also take this opportunity to thank once again the italian translator Barbara Benini, of whom you can find an interview on the site, for the very welcome and precious gift.

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