An Unnecessary Woman Paperback – January 1, 2001
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In "An Unnecessary Woman", we enter the world of an extreme introvert who lives for literature and classical music. We get a tangential view of what it’s like to live in Beirut from the 1950s to the present. I found it amazing that a man could create the worldview of an elderly woman so well. She is crotchety, opinionated, fearful, regretful and has been dealt some hard blows by life -- and yet we joyfully identify with her.
Some scenes were unforgettable, like the main character visiting her almost-senile mother and thinking with a chill how she was viewing her own future. And then there was her fear of showing the world the literary translations she has done for the past 50 years. We experience the extreme loneliness of someone who sees herself as totally unnecessary to the world. (Isn't that something that almost everybody asks themselves -- whether or not we are important to the world, and if it would be different without us in it?). And the ending is both believable and transcendent — unsuspected yet hopeful.
She gives us a great picture of Beirut during the war years, and I really felt like I was with her as she described scenes from her life, her city, her building. There were passages of great beauty in this one where I just felt like I sunk into her world, but there were more frequent times when the narrative just felt like a vehicle for the author to weave as many great works of literature into it for no real reason. It was a "Hey, look at me and see how smart I am" feeling I got while reading it.
I plodded through this and could not wait to get to the end. Sadly, for me (and I know I'm in the minority) this is one of those books where I wanted the time I invested in reading it back.
That being said, the last 10% (this review is obvs for the Kindle edition) of this book was really good [because we got women like coming together and being there for one another and I find that waaay more interesting than 90% of a book being navel-gazing about a life and about other books.] I was really delighted by the ending, and wish we could have had more than that.
Overall, not a bad book, just really not my cup of tea, and at least it was a worthy reminder of that!
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And then, the Greek mythology. The book is replete with Greek mythology references. Again I'm googling the story of Sisyphus or Thanatos to get the wittiness of this great piece of work which oddly is being penned by an ordinary, lower middle class Beiruti woman with no access to college education or internet. So I keep trying to make myself seem intelligent ( by googling of course) when finally I give up and let the story(oh we forgot there was a story, perhaps the writer had forgotten as well , so who cares?) slide page after page with occasional bouts of dread when I see there are still 100 or so pages left to read. The only moment of relief is when I reach the end and close the book and place it in my bookshelf while silently contemplating the ways I could have spent all these hours.
I don't completely diss the book for there were certain thought provoking portions, and good writing, of course. But I don't think I can recommend it to someone who wishes to spend some good time reading. Maybe someday I'll get back to it with some more vigour, some sense of bonhomie.
The protagonist is an avid reader who enjoys translating books she reads into Arabic with no thought of publication, so the manuscripts are placed in boxes in her apartment for ever. Her neighbours annoy her and she has an antagonistic relationship with her mother and half-siblings.
I imagine other works by the same author may be more interesting and might attempt another one, but doubt whether I would recommend this one to others.
Anyway, here are my preliminary thoughts about it.
The author is very literate and erudite. He could easily have made me feel inadequate by the range of knowledge he displays, especially about philosophers, writers and history. However instead I felt drawn into the musings our blue haired heroine shared with the reader.
An unneccessary woman? Not a bit!
R. Alameddina capture parfaitement l'espèce de folie douce qui a régné à Beyrouth pendant et juste après la guerre - et qui règne sans doute encore. Le personnage principal en est l'illustration parfaite, un pied dans le passé, un pied dans un présent qui lui échappe et l'oblige en même temps à rester pragmatique.
Certes, trop de références littéraires un peu pédantes, mais on pardonne à l'auteur ces petites vanités.