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Alif the Unseenby G. Willow Wilson
Religion, metaphor, rebellion. The Quran and the Internet. Hackers, effrit, and sheikhs. Douglas Hofstadter shout-outs. Holy moly. Otherworldly elements swirl into the modern-day Middle East in this sandstorm of magic and mortals. The environments are finely crafted, completely believable, and often beautiful. We see skyscrapers after a sandstorm, the contrast of chaiwallahs and Starbucks, and the tactile differences between darkness and night. The characters? Perfectly realized, never too accomplished, never too one-sided, and with shades of subtle coloring throughout. I told a bajillion people about this book, and I still want to tell a bajillion more.
Synopses & Reviews
Alif the Unseen is an incredibly timely adventure tale worthy of Neil Gaiman. In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker protects watched groups from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble — until he falls for the wrong woman and unleashes a forbidden text thought to be written by the jinn (genies).
As the book opens, Alif's computer has been breached by the Hand, the states electronic security force, and the woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince. When it turns out the fiance is the Hand, and the state security forces come after Alif, he must go underground, all while trying to fight back against a piece of code which the Hand is using to create the most sophisticated state surveillance ever developed. When Alif discovers the secret book of the jinn, which may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death.
With shades of Neal Stephenson, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour de force that will enchant readers — a sophisticated blend of ideas, philosophy, technology and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner.
"Set in an unnamed Arab emirate, Wilson's intriguing, colorful first novel centers on a callow Arab-Indian computer hacker who calls himself 'Alif,' the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. Alif surreptitiously creates digital protection, at a price, for Islamic dissidents being threatened by the chief of state security (aka 'the Hand of God'). When Intisar, Alif's aristocratic beloved, opportunistically throws Alif over for the Hand, he flees into the desert, along with a female neighbor, Dina, pursued by the Hand. Dina carries the 700-year-old jinn-dictated The Thousand and One Days (the inverse of The Thousand and One Nights), which contains secrets disguised in stories that may help Alif remake his world. Wilson (The Butterfly Mosque, a memoir) provocatively juxtaposes ancient Arab lore and equally esoteric computer theory, highlighting the many facets of the East-West conflict while offering few insights, to some readers' regret, into possible resolutions of that conflict. 10-city author tour. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Associates. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Driven by a hot ionic charge between higher math and Arabian myth, G. Willow Wilson conjures up a tale of literary enchantment, political change, and religious mystery. Open the first page and you will be forced to do its bidding: To read on." Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz
"Alif the Unseen is a terrific metaphysical thriller, impossible to put down. The fantastical world Alif inhabits — at once recognizable and surreal, visible and invisible — is all the more fantastic for the meticulously detailed Koranic theology and Islamic mythology Wilson expertly reveals. A multicultural Harry Potter for the digital age." Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah's Democracy and The Ayatollah Begs to Differ
"G. Willow Wilson has a deft hand with myth and with magic, and the kind of smart, honest writing mind that knits together and bridges cultures and people. You should read what she writes." Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods
"[A] Harry Potter-ish action-adventure romance [that] unfolds against the backdrop of the Arab Spring....Improbably charming....A bookload of wizardry and glee." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"An intriguing mix of fantasy, romance and spirituality wrapped up in cyberthriller packaging. . . . Wilsons desert fantasy moves at the breakneck speed of a thriller through cityscapes, wilderness and ethereal realms as she skillfully laces mythology and modernity, spirituality and her own unique take on technological evolution. Rather than the time-worn ghost in the machine concept, Wilson creates a djinn in the machine fusion of magic and tech that blurs the line between the mythical and virtual, suggesting a brave new world in which mankind's oldest stories will bleed through more strongly than ever. . . . [Wilson] also boldly approaches larger issues such as religion, philosophy and the contrast between Eastern and Western culture, using fantasy as a lens through which to view reality. . . . Don't miss this one-of-a-kind story, both contemporary and as ancient as the Arabian sands." Jaclyn Fulwood, Shelf Awareness (online)
"A fantasy thriller that takes modern Islamic computer hackers fighting against State-based repression and entangles that with the fantastical Djinn-riddled world of One Thousand and One Nights....Here's a book for summer reading, like a novelization of one of Joss Whedon's best Buffy episodes crossed with a Pathe newsreel of the Arab Spring uprisings. It's a page-turner." Wayne Alan Brenner, The Austin Chronicle
"A ferocious new voice in fiction....As with every comic-book artist turned author, the critical question is this: Can her talent for vivid characterization translate from image into text? The answer, in Wilson's case, is a resounding 'yes'....There is no question that Alif the Unseen is one of those rare events in the history of publishing, when an ancient pattern of storytelling (The Arabian Nights) is grafted onto an up-to-the-minute world crisis. This synthesis has great spiritual authority, thanks to the vision of G. Willow Wilson." Michael Alec Rose, BookPage
"A book of startling beauty and power." Holly Black, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles
"Alif the Unseen...is a breezy yet thought-provoking blend of techno-thriller and urban fantasy, set in an unnamed Arab emirate. It will whisk you away to the new vistas of wonder and wisdom....[An] excellent modern fairytale....The prose of Alif the Unseen is smart and agile; romance and adventure flow easily between Deep Thoughts....[Wilson] surpasses the early work of Stephenson and Gaiman, with whom comparisons have already been made....Alif the Unseen will find many fans in both West and East. They will appreciate it for being just the fine story it is and as a seed for potent ideas yet to come." io9 (online)
"An ambitious, well-told, and wonderful story. Alif the Unseen is one of those novels that has you rushing to find what else the author has written, and eagerly anticipating what she'll do next." Matt Ruff, author of Fool on the Hill and The Mirage
"[Wilson] ushers the energy of the Arab Spring into urban fantasy while unleashing jinns into the digital age....As timely and thoughtful as it is edgy and exciting, this dervish of a novel wraps modern tendrils around ancient roots, spanning the gulf between ones and zeros, haves and have-nots, and seen and unseen worlds." Ian Chipman, Booklist (starred review)
"Imaginative storytelling...Wilson skillfully weaves a story linking modern-day technologies and computer languages to the folklore and religion of the Middle East. For readers ready for adventure and looking for original storytelling, this excellent novel supersedes genres as easily as its characters jump from one reality to another." Library Journal (starred review)
"Willow Wilson is an awesome talent. She made her own genre and rules over it. Magical, cinematic, pure storytelling. It's nothing like anything. A brilliant fiction debut." Michael Muhammad Knight, author of The Taqwacores
"[An] intriguing, colorful first novel....Wilson provocatively juxtaposes ancient Arab lore and equally esoteric computer theory, highlighting the many facets of the East-West conflict." Publishers Weekly
In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients — dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups — from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif — the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the States electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover's new fiance is the head of State security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.
About the Author
G. Willow Wilson was born in New Jersey in 1982 and raised in Colorado. She is also the author of a memoir, The Butterfly Mosque, and the critically acclaimed comics Air and Vixen. She divides her time between Cairo and Seattle.
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