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Alif the Unseen Paperback – April 2, 2013


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (April 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802121225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802121226
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (212 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


Praise for Alif the Unseen

“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 Stardust and American Gods

“[A] Harry Potterish action-adventure romance [that] unfolds against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. . . . A bookload of wizardry and glee.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Outrageously enjoyable . . . The energetic plotting of Philip Pullman, the nimble imagery of Neil Gaiman and the intellectual ambition of Neal Stephenson are three comparisons that come to mind.”—Salon.com

“An intoxicating, politicized amalgam of science fiction and fantasy . . . that integrates the all-too-familiar terrors of contemporary political repression with supernatural figures from The Thousand and One Nights.”—Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post

“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

“A magical book. The supernatural and sociopolitical thriller Alif the Unseen is timely literary alchemy, a smart, spirited swirl of current events and history; religion and mysticism; reality and myth; computer science and metaphysics. . . . Alif the Unseen richly rewards believers in the power of the written word.”—The Seattle Times

“[An] excellent modern fairytale . . . [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.com

“A book of startling beauty and power.”—Holly Black, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles

Alif the Unseen . . . defies easy categorization. Is it literary fiction? A fantasy novel? A dystopian techno-thriller? An exemplar of Islamic mysticism, with ties to the work of the Sufi poets? Wilson seems to delight in establishing, then confounding, any expectations readers may have.”—Pauls Toutonghi, New York Times Book Review

“A fast-paced, thrilling journey between two worlds, the seen world of human beings and the unseen world of the supernatural.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A Golden Compass for the Arab Spring.”—Steven Hall, author of The Raw Shark Texts

“A delirious urban fantasy which puts the unlikely case for religion in an age of empowering and intrusive technology.”—The Guardian (UK)

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 Ayatollahs’ Democracy and The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

Alif the Unseen is a true chimera. . . . There are few authors who can pull off dealing with religion, dogma, and mysticism as well as sci-fi, and Wilson is one of them. Alif the Unseen contains elements that will appeal to fans of the ecstatic digital visions The Neuromancer, devotees of the mythological richness of The Thousand and One Nights, international-news junkies and fellow hacktivists.”—Tor.com

“Written just before the Arab Spring, this wild adventure mixes the digital derring-do of Neal Stephenson with the magic of The Thousand and One Nights. . . . Alif the Unseen is a rich blend of storytelling magic.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“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

“Passion, power, and technology converge in this imaginative novel.”—Oprah.com

“Imaginative . . . Brilliant . . . Alif the Unseen . . . draws on Islamic theology, the hacking underworld, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, spy thrillers, and the events of the Arab Spring to weave an ‘urban fantasy’ in which the everyday and the supernatural collide. . . . A first novel that is witty, imaginative, and unorthodox in all senses.”—The Observer (UK)

“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

“Wilson manages to keep the various fantastical, technological, political and religious plates spinning without ever losing track of the story, or getting bogged down in polemic. . . .Though Alif the Unseen was recently compared to Harry Potter . . . it has more in common with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.”—The National (UAE)

“One of the most compelling narratives you’ll read this year, Alif offers masterful insight into contemporary Middle Eastern societies whose ongoing transformations are as unexpected and profound as those in our own. It is also a powerful reminder of how far fantasy has come since Tolkien.”—Jack Womack, author of Random Acts of Senseless Violence

“An intriguing mix of fantasy, romance and spirituality wrapped up in cyberthriller packaging. . . . Wilson’s 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. . . . Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind story, both contemporary and as ancient as the Arabian sands.”—Shelf Awareness (online)

“Wilson writes beautifully, tells a great story, and even makes computer hackery seem like magic.”—Sunday Times (UK)

“The real magic of Alif the Unseen is catching a talented writer early in her career.”—Rita Mae Brown

“Outstanding . . . Wilson’s novel delights in bending genres and confounding expectations: It’s both a literary techno-thriller and a fantasy that takes religion very seriously. . . . Alif the Unseen . . . is one of the most inventive, invigorating novels of the year.”—The Christian Science Monitor

“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. . . . Like a novelization of one of Joss Whedon’s best Buffy episodes crossed with a Pathé newsreel of the Arab Spring uprisings. It’s a page-turner.”—The Austin Chronicle

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.

Customer Reviews

A few of the characters felt a bit one-dimensional, too.
Eric Oehler
It's a good story, filled with great characters, a nice plot and lots of passion.
C. D. C. Hdez
It has elements of contemporary fantasy and science fiction combined very well.
Shala Kerrigan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Thom Mitchell VINE VOICE on 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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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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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By S. Masood on 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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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Liz on July 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up based off rave reviews that I had seen for it lately. However, for me, it did not live up to the hype. I thought it kind of dragged at parts. I also found the descriptions of computer programming, using metaphors like 'building a tower covered in jasmine,' to be an interesting idea...but one that did not make a lot of sense for me. I'm familiar with how programming works, and I just did not feel that the metaphors fit the art and science of computers. It's an interesting challenge, trying to write an exciting book where large paragraphs of the plot take place with the main character changing the world through coding, but the author's lyrical solution was off putting to me.

I also had trouble liking the protagonist, Alif, at all. He is terribly sexist. He point blank says to his companion, Dina, after she outsmarts him, "I almost forgot you were a girl for a moment!" I get that the author is trying to show that he grows up as the story progresses. However I just could not get over that he keeps a blood stained sheet, from taking the virginity of the girl he is infatuated with, and then when she breaks it off with him, he send her the sheet with a note saying "You might need this." That was an unredeemable introduction to his character, and that poisoned the rest of his story. I don't really feel like he changes or becomes a better person, despite meeting djinn, being imprisoned, and accidentally becoming the figurehead for a revolution. He just wants to go home so he can date and marry his neighbor, and continue their conservative lifestyle.

His neighbor, Dina, however, is an amazing, intelligent, passionate and steadfast character. I only wish she had found a better partner than Alif.
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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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