An Unnecessary Woman
By Rabih Alameddine
Rabih Alameddine follows his international bestseller The Hakawati with an enchanting story of the life of a book-loving, obsessive, seventy-two-year-old, blue-haired 'unnecessary woman', living in Beirut. This is a novel to savour.
Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family's 'unnecessary appendage'. Every year, she translates a new favourite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read - by anyone.
This breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman follows Aaliya's digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colourful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya's own volatile past. As she tries to overcome her ageing body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left.
A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the prodigiously gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a magnificent rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East.
Rabih Alameddine is the author of the novels Koolaids, and I, the Divine, The Hakawati, the story collection, The Perv, and most recently, An Unnecessary Woman. He divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut.
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- Publication date:
01 Feb 2015
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Book lovers will adore this moving tale ... Aaliya is a sympathetic character but never a pitiful one, recognisable yet also unique. — Independent on Sunday
The narrator of this exquisitely written novel, Aaliya, is an old woman who lives alone by choice in her war-damaged Beirut apartment. She's sharp and sour and not especially likeable, but what redeems her is her love of music and books, especially the latter. Her life story is punctuated by her musings on art, and by the inescapable intrusions of the brutal real world. — Mail on Sunday
An Unnecessary Woman dramatizes a wonderful mind at play. The mind belongs to the protagonist, and it is filled with intelligence, sharpness and strange memories and regrets. But, as in the work of Calvino and Borges, the mind is also that of the writer, the arch-creator. His tone is ironic and knowing; he is fascinated by the relationship between life and books. He is a great phrase-maker and a brilliant writer of sentences. And over all this fiercely original act of creation is the sky of Beirut throwing down a light which is both comic and tragic, alert to its own history and to its mythology, guarding over human frailty and the idea of the written word with love and wit and understanding and a rare sort of wisdom — Colm Toibin