Rabih Alameddine: An Unnecessary Woman: A Novel

by Rachel Baker on December 4, 2013

Summary: 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.

Review: I found this book to be a bit tedious by the time I hit the halfway mark. At first it was sweet, but almost every page has a quote from another author and while I get that the book is supposed to be about the power of literature to define us, it became too uncomfortable. At times I felt as if I was in a literature class; other times, I felt I was uncomfortably watching the obsession in single white female.  I fully recognize part of my discomfort was from watching the decline of a mind due to the typical aging process of a woman, whom her family shunned, who has spent a good portion of her life living in a country torn by civil war.  It was just a bit too much.  …and maybe that was the point, I don’t know.

The only other book I read by this author was The Hakawati – and really, I found some of those stories exhausting, but realized I was supposed to feel that way based on the storytelling technique being used.  This book wasn’t the same though.  The Unnecessary Woman is just tedious.  I think I would have welcomed exhausting.

That said, the prose is well written and the story is actually pretty good if you can get past the copious literature references. I’m not sure if I will finish this book in the future, but for now, I’m going to put it aside and let it rest.

I received this book from the publisher via netgalley.

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