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Alif the Unseen [Kindle Edition]

G. Willow Wilson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the "Hand of God," as they call 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.


Editorial Reviews

Review

'An exhilarating techno-thriller but also far more than that... Wilson has created in this rich, literate novel a profound dialogue between tradition and modernity, belief and non-belief, fairy tale and urban reality.' Guardian 'Brilliant... witty, imaginative and unorthodox in all senses' Observer 'Charming and original' Sunday Telegraph '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 'A dazzling novel about faith, cyberspace and 21st-century Middle Eastern politics' Metro 'Wilson works magic - An exuberant fable that has thrills, chills and - even more remarkably - universal appeal' New York Times 'Marvelous - Alif the Unseen takes events similar to those of the Arab Spring, adds a runaway computer virus, an unconventional love story and the odd genie to create an intoxicating, politicized amalgam of science fiction and fantasy.' Washington Post

About the Author

G. Willow Wilson is the author of the graphic novels Cairo, named a Best Graphic Novel of the Year by PW and Comics Worth Reading; Air, nominated for an Eisner Award, and Vixen, winner of the Glyph Comics Fan Award for Best Comic. Her most recent comics project is the relaunch of Mystic with artist David López. Her first non-graphic work was the memoir The Butterfly Mosque, a Seattle Times Best Book of the Year.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1287 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (June 19, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0087GJVPO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,336 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly Good May 29, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's rare to read a book that blows me away with such a complete vision - but G. Willow Wilson's "Alif the Unseen" is one such book. The vision presented of the near future in the Middle East, combining both technology and the supernatural world of Djinns, is truly amazing and ranks right up there With William Gibson's "Neuromancer" or Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash".

Ms. Wilson does an excellent job developing both her male and female characters as well as broaching philosophical, metaphysical and religious topics and debates. Like Stephenson and Gibson - comfort with technical computing concepts enhances the novel but isn't required; and a willingness to suspend disbelief as the "real world" shifts to incorporate the unseen, by most, Djinns, and their world.

I'm hopeful that this book is only the first in a series of books featuring these characters because I found myself unable to put the book down until I finished it. It's uncommon that a new science fiction or fantasy book makes it onto my permanent bookshelf next to seminal works of science fiction and fantasy (Gibson, Stephenson, Asimov, Heinlein, Tolkien, Herbert et al), but Ms. Wilson belongs there, both for her characters and for her choice of subject matter. My only quibble is that I wish she had included an language and term glossary at the end of her book because some of her terms were new to me and I had to look them up elsewhere. If you like quality writing of any genre - this book is worth your time.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Part fantasy, part technological thriller, and part sociological satire, G. Willow Wilson's "Alif the Unseen" is certainly one of the more unusual books that I've read recently. For sheer ambition, it's hard not to sing the praises of this bold and striking new novel. The story, which is set in a contemporary (but unnamed) Middle Eastern security state, opens as an ill fated romance, morphs into a chase thriller, and wraps up in another dimension completely. But for its increasing divergence from the known land into one of legend, the book has a lot to say about the world in which we live. It proposes that while our belief systems may have evolved, an underlying truth remains constant and waiting to be discovered. But the increase in modernization has taken us further from universal understanding and connectivity. Language, writing, prayer, mythology, and even the Internet hold the link to our past and the key to forging forward toward a future filled with knowledge as opposed to oppression.

Enough overbearing analysis, though, for it makes "Alif the Unseen" sound like a ponderous chore. So let me make it clear, this is one incredibly fun ride. Even devoid of any subtext or deep meaning, the principle narrative is like a cracked fairy tale for adults. A skewed version of "The Thousand and One Nights" (told from the more supernatural vantage point) is the plot device that sets most of the action in motion. When a young hacker has the book thrust into his hands, he soon becomes the target of a powerful and treacherous state agency. With his devout neighbor and childhood friend, the pair seek refuge in the most unlikely of places. Soon, things they never thought were real start to open up a mythical new world.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Thoughtful June 17, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Alif the Unseen" is by no means a perfect novel. It falls victim, at times, to plot contrivance and relies on coincidence perhaps too much as a device in the narrative. Despite these flaws, however, is a highly entertaining novel that provokes thought and poses fascinating questions in realms philosophical, spiritual, political and scientific. The depth of the book is astonishing, especially considering how much plain fun you will have traversing those depths with very flawed but very sympathetic and human characters.

The fact I read the entire book in one night should serve as enough of a recommendation. I acknowledge, as noted, that there are weaknesses in the work but they are by no means fatal and most of them prop up towards the end of the book. In short, it is worth reading - anything that successful combines djinns with Star Wars references is probably worth reading.

That said it is not, as the 'reviews' at the back of the book's own cover claim, the next "Harry Potter." But then...what is?
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
What's great about works such as Tolkien's epics, is how they take utterly nonexistent worlds and make them seem not only real but rich, faceted, even if overwhelmed by "good against evil" morality.

What's great about William Gibson's early sci fi is how he can describe nonexistent technology in a way that makes you feel like he actually understands its ins and outs(Gibson, the less technical sci fi author out there)

They make a past that never was and a future that never will be into an hyperreal present. Even better than the real thing.

Then there is this book, which takes an ancient and rich culture as Islam, and makes it seem just as tenuous as any other cheap Tolkien clone out there, all the while making it glaringly obvious than the author's understanding of computers, hacking, and of hackers is, at best, extremely limited(something that, in this day and age, can be remedied by spending a few hours in Wikipedia). All this coupled with a predictable love story that is all cheese and no charm, randomly and nonsensical action sequences, a very superficial and convoluted understanding of the Arab Srping and some competent but extremely contrived dialog which tries to get the one or two interesting ideas of the book across. The only times the book gets decent is when it doesn't try to hide what it is: a very conventional(and by that I do mean cliched) Urban Fantasy novel. Not a great one, but somewhat enjoyable.

I am not an Arab nor a Muslim. I'm a South American agnostic who was raised Catholic. I'm not an expert on Islamic culture. Still, the choice to randomly throw Arab words for mundane things(mostly food), always in italics, made me feel like I was reading a cheap fantasy novel referencing a made up language.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars the power of metaphors and the gift of love
The modern world of computers and hackers and technology meets the djinn of the Arabian Nights. What a wonderfully novel perspective. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Andreea Pausan
1.0 out of 5 stars Indocrinating (not in a positive way)
Nice interessting start, fading progression and quite dissapointing bollywood-style happy ending of the story. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Lenka
4.0 out of 5 stars Alif the Unseen
Set in an unnamed country in the Middle East, the hero of this novel is Alif. Actually, this is his alias, for Alif is a young man who spends his day undercover and his time on... Read more
Published 1 month ago by S Riaz
5.0 out of 5 stars a page=turner with lots of depth
The fusion of the internet and Muslim mysticism was a heady combination, and I still think about many of the images and ideas in this book. Read more
Published 2 months ago by J. E. Mynchenberg
5.0 out of 5 stars I'd like to see more Alif
This book keeps all the elements of good fantasy while introducing the "western" reader to the culture--both ancient and modern--of the Middle East. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Paul Allison
4.0 out of 5 stars Great YA novel - especialy for those familiar with Islamic legend.
This one is written from a Muslim perspective. It's part Thousand and One Nights (in fact that story has a cameo here), part cyber adventure, part adolescent romance, part fantasy... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Bookwoody
2.0 out of 5 stars Meh, I feel kind of robbed...
The synopsis of the book and the great review on NPR got my attention. I really enjoyed the first half to three-quarters of the book, despite the arabic words. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Joe D. Edmiston
4.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but very good and very enjoyable
Having just read the very intriguing "The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wecker, my appetite was whetted for something similar. Read more
Published 2 months ago by R. Manning
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
Wonderful book!
Published 2 months ago by HM
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Alif the Unseen is one of the books without a lot of fanfare, which is surprising considering it’s a well written story, extremely so and not to mention, unique. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Cristina's Book Reviews
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More About the Author

Born in 1982, G. Willow Wilson began her writing career at 17 as a music and DJ critic for Boston's Weekly Dig. After moving to Egypt in 2003, Willow's articles and essays on Islam and the Middle East appeared in publications including the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, and Glamour. A lifelong fan of comics and graphic novels, Willow's first ongoing comic book series, AIR, was nominated for an Eisner Award. Her memoir, The Butterfly Mosque, the story of her conversion to Islam and life in Egypt, was named Best Book of 2010 by the Seattle Times. Her first novel, Alif the Unseen, debuts in 2012.

She enjoys British films, cooking, and World of Warcraft, and holds a purple belt in kajukenbo.

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