Unnecessary Woman (Alameddine)

An Unnecessary Woman 
Rabih Alameddine, 2014
Grove/Atlantic
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780802122148



Summary
One of the Middle East’s most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine offfers 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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1959
Where—Amman, Jordan
Raised—Kuwait and Lebonan
Education—B.S., University of California, Los Angeles; M.B.A, University
   of San Francisco
Currently—lives in San Francisco, California, USA


Rabih Alameddine is a Lebanese-American painter and writer. He was born in Amman, Jordan to Lebanese Druze parents (Alameddine himself is an atheist). He grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon, which he left at age 17 to live first in England and then in California.

A lover of mathematics, he earned a degree in engineering from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Master of Business in San Francisco. He began his career as an engineer, then moved to writing and painting.

He is the author of four novels—Koolaids: The Art of War (1998); I, the Divine (2001); The Hakawati (2008); and An Uncessary Woman (2013)—as well as The Perv (1999), a collection of short stories. In 2002 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Hakawati (The Storyteller in Arabic), his most famous work, was the result of eight years of intensive work. It has received critical acclaim and been translated into ten languages. Alameddine lives in San Francisco and Beirut. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/20/2014.)



Book Reviews
[I]rresistible… [the author] offers winningly unrestricted access to the thoughts of his affectionate, urbane, vulnerable and fractiously opinionated heroine. Aaliya says that when she reads, she tries to 'let the wall crumble just a bit, the barricade that separates me from the book.' Mr. Alameddine's portrayal of a life devoted to the intellect is so candid and human that, for a time, readers can forget that any such barrier exists.
Wall Street Journal


Alameddine…has conjured a beguiling narrator in his engaging novel, a woman who is, like her city, hard to read, hard to take, hard to know and, ultimately, passionately complex.
San Francisco Chronicle


You can't help but love this character.
Arun Rath - NPR, All Things Considered


A restlessly intelligent novel built around an unforgettable character…a novel full of elegant, poetic sentences.
Minneapolis Star Tribune


I can’t remember the last time I was so gripped simply by a novel’s voice. Alameddine makes it clear that a sheltered life is not necessarily a shuttered one. Aaliya is thoughtful, she’s complex, she’s humorous and critical.
Rosecrans Baldwin- NPR.com


(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


[T]he 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


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. — Michele Leber
Booklist


(Starred review.) Though, until its climax, there's little action in the course of the day in which the novel is set, Aaliya is an engagingly headstrong protagonist, and the book is rich with her memories and observations..... [S]she never feels embittered, and 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 Reviews



Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

(We'll add specific questions if and when they're made available by the publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020