Synopses & Reviews
One of the Middle East's most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine follows his international bestseller, The Hakawati
, with an enchanting story of a book-loving, obsessive, seventy-two-year-old unnecessary” woman.
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 favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read by anyone.
In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman's late-life crisis, readers follow Aaliya's digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colorful 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 aging 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 nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East.
"An intimate, melancholy and superb tour de force....Alameddine's storytelling is rich with a bookish humor that's accessible without being condescending. A gemlike and surprisingly lively study of an interior life." Kirkus(starred review)
Studded with quotations and succinct observations, this remarkable novel by Alameddine is a paean to fiction, poetry, and female friendship. Dip into it, make a reading list from it, or simply bask in its sharp, smart prose.” Booklist (starred review)
"Alameddine's most glorious passages are those that simply relate Aalyia's thoughts, which read like tiny, wonderful essays. A central concern of the book is the nature of the desire of artistic creators for their work to matter, which the author treats with philosophical suspicion. In the end, Aalyia's epiphany is joyful and freeing." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Acclaimed author Alameddine (The Hakawati) here relates the internal struggles of a solitary, elderly woman with a passion for books...Aaliya's life may seem like a burden or even "unnecessary" to others since she is divorced and childless, but her humor and passion for literature bring tremendous richness to her day-to-day life and to the reader's....Though set in the Middle East, this book is refreshingly free of today's geopolitical hot-button issues. A delightful story for true bibliophiles, full of humanity and compassion." Library Journal
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
Winner of the California Book Award
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
Finalist for the National Book Award
"Beautiful and absorbing."--New York Times
An Unnecessary Woman is a breathtaking portrait of one reclusive woman's late-life crisis, which garnered a wave of rave reviews and love letters to Alameddine's cranky yet charming septuagenarian protagonist, Aaliya, a character you "can't help but love" (NPR). Aaliya's insightful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and her volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left. Here, the gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East and an enduring ode to literature and its power to define who we are.
"A paean to the transformative power of reading, to the intellectual asylum from one's circumstances found in the life of the mind."--LA Review of Books
" The novel] throbs with energy... Aaliya's] inventive way with words gives unfailing pleasure, no matter how dark the events she describes, how painful the emotions she reveals."--Washington Post
About the Author
Rabih Alameddine is the author of the novels Koolaids, I, the Divine, and The Hakawati, and the story collection The Perv.