Since it was first released in Arabic in 2002, The Yacoubian Building has been shrouded by controversy in a country where the Ministry of Information (and, by extension, the state-owned media) have a history of controlling content with an iron fist. By using non-traditional characters, Al Aswany sheds light on a number of the country’s most sensitive taboos, most notably corruption, prison torture, homosexuality, and the rise of fundamental Islam. Thus the underlying tension, which the novel boldly puts forth, is one of religious morality versus secularism, and one of tradition versus modernity.
Alrawi’s expertly crafted narrative voice in The Mouse Who Saved Egypt conjures a timeless atmosphere as he tells the story of a young prince who rescues a mouse caught in a thorn bush. That evening the prince dreams of the sun god Amon-Ra, whose rhyming pronouncements lead the prince to discover a giant stone sphinx buried in the sand. The prince soon becomes a pharaoh and Egypt flourishes under his reign. Even the mice eat well! When an army appears on the kingdom’s doorstep the pharaoh prays to Amon-Ra and discovers that his act of kindness so many years ago has the power to save his people.