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Alaa al Aswani

Alaa al Aswani
Alaa al Aswani

(Cairo, 1957) is a writer, dentist, and one of the founders of the opposition movement Kefaya that helped launch the Egyptian Revolution. He had his international breakthrough with The Yacoubian Building, a novel about the lives of the inhabitants of an apartment block in Cairo. Although it paints a disconcerting picture of Egyptian society, it remained a bestseller in that country for years. It was also made into a film and a TV series. Al Aswani's writing style is quick and witty, with short chapters full of action, atmosphere and drama. His 2004 novella Friendly Fire, about a young man highly critical of corruption in Egypt, was banned. His newspaper columns about political developments in Egypt have been collected in On the state of Egypt. The Dutch translation of his latest novel will be presented at the 2015 Winternachten festival: De automobielclub (The Automobile Club of Egypt), about Cairo in the late 1940s, when Egypt was a British protectorate.


Archive available for: Alaa al Aswani

  • Winternachten 2016

    Opening Night: Free the Word!

    With: Alaa al Aswani, Dick van der Harst, Dilek Dundar, Farah Karimi, Guy Danel, Habtom Yohannes, Jennifer Clement, Jung Chang, Lex Bohlmeijer, Manon Uphoff, Reinier Voet, Renate Dorrestein, Toine Heijmans, Ton van de Langkruis

    On opening night, the spotlight is on freedom of speech.The Sino-British writer Jung Chang knows what it means to be unable to speak freely in one's country. Years after she left Communist China, her world-famous book Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China was banned there. Tonight she delivers the Free the Word! keynote speech. With the following presentation of the prestigious Oxfam Novib PEN Awards, the festival honours contemporary authors who seek and propagate truth at the risk of their freedom and lives. The award-winners are the Turkish writer and journalist Can Dundar (who is now in prison in Turkey and will be represented by his wife Dilek Dundar), the Eritrean poet and songwriter Amanuel Asrat, who will be represented by Habtom Yohannes, and the Egyptian poet Omar Hazek. He would have been present in The Hague to receive the award, but was stopped on his way to The Netherlands at Cairo airport by the authorities. His fellow-countryman writer Alaa Al Aswany will represent him. After the ceremony, Lex Bohlmeijer will lead a discussion on how good intentions can founder when we raise issues of injustice, such as censorship. How can we really help threatened writers? And what is the point of good intentions when they have the opposite effect? Musical interventions by musician-in-residence Dick van der Harst switch up this English-language event.

  • Winternachten 2016 – Friday Night Unlimited

    Stars of Arabic Literature

    Adonis, from Syria, is considered the most important contemporary Arabic poet. His work has finally been translated into Dutch. Tonight Adonis receives the first copy of his poetry collection Wat blijft (What Remains) from Rotterdam's Mayor Aboutaleb, an avowed fan. After that, Egypt's Alaa al Aswany—famous for The Yacoubian Building, his taboo-busting novel that stirred up the Arab world—also presents new work in translation: The Automobile Club of Cairo. In English

  • Winternachten 2016 – Saturday Night Unlimited

    The Text of my Life: Alaa al Aswany

    In Filmhuis Studio A the festival's guest writers present their favourite literary texts, and explain why a particular poem, novel excerpt, or song lyric influenced their life and work. Which memory, what feeling does this text call up for them? A continuous interview programme, in which the audience also talks with the writers. Hosted by Wim Brands. In English

    Alaa al Aswani replaces Mircea Cărtărescu, who had to cancel his appearance for personal reasons.

  • Winternachten 2016 – Friday Night Unlimited

    Writing in Times of Turmoil

    Can a writer continue to seek refuge in imagination when all hell breaks loose? Andrej Kurkov wrote novels such as The President's Last Love before revolution broke out in his hometown of Kiev. He decided to write the non-fiction book Ukraine Diaries, about the Ukrainian uprising. When the Arab Spring broke out, novelist Alaa al Aswani camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square for days on end. He described the revolution in About Egypt:
    The provocative considerations of a novelist, in which every piece ends with the phrase "Democracy is the solution".

    Alaa al Aswany replaces Mircea Cărtărescu, who was unable to appear due to personal reasons.

  • Winternachten 2007 – WINTERNACHT 1

    Two Houses

    A daily topic of conversation in the Arab press still: Omaret Yacoubian, the adaptation of the novel by Alaa Al Aswany. A story about corruption, fundamentalism, adultery, drugs, trade and homosexuality. People cry out against the film, but the cinemas in Egypt are jam-packed. The Dutch translation of the novel about the Yacoubian, an apartment building in Cairo, was presented in Winternachten. Writer Aswany talked to Michiel van Kempen, who in his novel Vluchtwegen sketches a critical image of life in an apartment building in the heterogeneous Bijlmermeer. Discussion in English.