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An Unnecessary Woman by [Alameddine, Rabih]
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Length: 306 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Seventy-two-year-old Beirut native Aaliya Sobhi, living a solitary life, has always felt herself unnecessary. The father who adored her died young, and her remarried mother focused attention on Aaliya’s half brothers, leaving her to describe herself as “my family’s appendix, its unnecessary appendage,” an attitude reinforced by her Lebanese culture. Divorced at 20 after a negligible marriage, she lived alone and began her life’s work of translating the novels she most loved into Arabic from other translations, then simply storing them, unread, in her apartment. Sustained by her “blind lust for the written word” and surrounded by piles of books, she anticipates beginning a new translation project each year until disaster appears to upend her life. But these are just the bare bones of a plot. The richness here is in Aaliya’s first-person narration, which veers from moments in her life to literature to the wars that have wracked her beloved native city during her lifetime. Studded with quotations and succinct observations, this remarkable novel by Alameddine (The Hakawati, 2008) 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

Review

Finalist for the National Book Award

Washington Post Top 50 Fiction Books of 2014; Kirkus Best Books of 2014; NPR Best Books of 2014; Amazon 100 Best Books of 2014; The Christian Science Monitor Top 10 Fiction Books of 2014


Praise for AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN

An Unnecessary Woman is a meditation on, among other things, aging, politics, literature, loneliness, grief and resilience. If there are flaws to this beautiful and absorbing novel, they are not readily apparent.”—New York Times

“[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

“[An] opaque self-portrait of an utterly beguiling misanthrope… Aaliya notes that: “Reading a fine book for the first time is as sumptuous as the first sip of orange juice that breaks the fast in Ramadan.” You don’t have to fast first (in fact it helps to have gorged on the books that Aaliya translates and adores) in order to savor Alameddine’s succulent fiction.”— Steven G. Kellman, The Boston Globe

“You can't help but love this character.”—Arun Rath, NPR’s 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.”—NPR.com

“[A] powerful intellectual portrait of a reader who is misread….a meditation on being and literature, written by someone with a passionate love of language and the power of words to compose interior worlds. It’s about how, and by what means, we survive. About how, in the end, what is hollow and unneeded becomes full, essential and enduring.”—Earl Pike, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Beautiful writing…sharp, smart and often sardonic…an homage to literature.”— Fran Hawthorne, The National

“Reading An Unnecessary Woman is about listening to a voice — Aaliya’s — not cantering through a plot, although powerful events do occur, both in the present and in memory…a fun, and often funny, book…rich in quirky metaphors… An Unnecessary Woman is not a game, though; it is a grave, powerful book. It is the hour-by-hour study of a woman who is struggling for dignity with every breath...The meaning of human dignity is perhaps the great theme of literature, and Alameddine takes it on in every page of this extraordinary book.”— Washington Independent Review of Books

“Playful, brainy and full of zest, An Unnecessary Woman is an antidote to literary blandness.”—Newsday

“Aaliya is a formidable character… When An Unnecessary Woman offers her what she regards as the corniest of conceits – a redemption arc – it’s a delight to see her take it.”—Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor

"An Unnecessary Woman is a book lover's book. If you've ever felt not at home in the world—or in your own skin—or preferred the company of a good book to that of an actual person, this book will welcome you with open arms and tell you that you're not alone. You just might find a home within its pages.”— Julie Hakim Azzam, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"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.”— Michele Leber, 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

“Around and about the central narrative, like tributaries, flow stories of those people Aaliyah has known…The city of Beirut itself is a character, collapsing, reshaping, renewing, mod¬ern¬ising as Aaliyah herself grows old. Aaliyah’s mordant wit is lit by Alameddine’s exquisite turns of phrase… An Unnecessary Woman is a story of innumerable things. It is a tale of blue hair and the war of attrition that comes with age, of loneliness and grief, most of all of resilience, of the courage it takes to survive, stay sane and continue to see beauty. Read it once, read it twice, read other books for a decade or so, and then pick it up and read it anew. This one’s a keeper.”— Aminatta Forna, The Independent (UK)

“[W]hat Alameddine offers here, most of all, is a window into the lives of Beiruti women... Aaliya, literary devotee, may consider herself “unnecessary”–but the novel proves very necessary indeed.”—Lambda

“A novel that manages to be both quiet and voluptuous, driven by a madcap intimacy that thoroughly resists all things ‘cute’ or ‘exotic.’”—Dwyer Murphy, Guernica

“Beautiful …despite [Aaliya’s] constant claims that she is unlovable it takes only a few pages of reading to realize this isn’t true – she’s extraordinary, even beguiling. She’s tough, opinionated, and deeply caring, but also passive, insecure, and fearful. Complex, in other words, and real. The novel is both intimate and expansive, opening out into the world of politics and war even as it’s rooted in the thoughts of this unnecessary, fascinating person.”— Aruna D'Souza, Riffle.com

“Aaliya is intelligent, acerbic and funny, one of those rare characters who becomes more real to readers than the people around them, and will remain will them for a long time.”—The Daily Star (Lebanon)

“Aaliya’s reminiscences make up “her total globe, her entire world”. In her, we see that feminism resists categorisation and is not defined by the West. Aaliyah embodies the self-determination of both the feminist and the writer, and exhibits vulnerability, determination and wisdom. But, most important, it is in the honesty of Aaliyah’s narration that we see the passion of the modern woman, full of knowledge and a vibrant interior world.”—Sarah Dempster, The Australian

“At once a sublime encomium to the art of reading well, where the pleasures of the text are called to the task of self-making, the novel is also a gentle appeal against loftiness. For every canonical seduction, there is pause for the folly of disconnection, the vanity of denial. In Alameddine’s examination of memory, translation and freedom, there is an insistence that life is more than the cruel absurdities of a reductive reality. An Unnecessary Woman charms with expressive cynicism and inadvertent optimism, shining a unique light on the art of storytelling.”—Readings (Australia)

“This impossibly beautiful funny novel is a window into another world. Rabih Alameddine has drawn a fierce and passionate character whose love of life and literature draws the reader into her labyrinthine story. An Unneccessary Woman is for anyone who has an enduring love affair with books, the desire to understand the human condition or a glimpse into the rich and exotic straddling of life that the city of Beirut epitomises.”—The Hoopla.com (Australia)

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

"The extraordinary if “unnecessary” woman at the center of this magnificent novel built into my heart a sediment of life lived in reverse, through wisdom, epiphany, and regret. This woman—Aaliya is her name—for all her sly and unassuming modesty, is a stupendous center of consciousness. She understands time, and folly, and is wonderfully comic. She has read everything under the sun (as has her creator, Alameddine), and as a polyglot mind of an old world Beirut, she reminds us that storehouses of culture, of literature, of memory, are very fragile things indeed. They exist, shimmering, as chimeras, in the mind of Aaliya, who I am so happy to feel I now know. Her particularity, both tragic and lightly clever, might just stay with me forever."—Rachel Kushner

"There are many ways to break someone's heart, but Rabih Alameddine is one rare writer who not only breaks our hearts but gives every broken piece a new life. With both tender care and surgical exactness, An Unnecessary Woman leads us away from the commonplace and the mundane to enter a world made of love for words, wisdom, and memories. No words can express my gratitude for this book."
—Yiyun Li

"With An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine has accomplished something astonishing: a novel that is at once expansive and intimate, quiet and full of feeling. Aaliya is one of the more memorable characters in contemporary fiction, and every page of this extraordinary novel demands to be savored and re-read."—Daniel Alarcón

An Unnecessary Woman offers a testament to the saving virtue of literature and an unforgettable protagonist . . . . Alameddine maintains a steady electric current between past and present, fantasy and reality.”—D Repubblica (Italy)

“A contemporary fable about passion: passion for literature and the passions of love.”—L’Unita (Italy)

“Passion is the key to this book, which has already been hailed as a masterpiece: passion for a man, and passion for books.”—Oggi (Italy)

A Daily Beast Hot Read

Product details

  • File Size: 1837 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (February 4, 2014)
  • Publication Date: February 4, 2014
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00ET7PJL0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,641 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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