Guide An Unnecessary Woman

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Rather, the novel overflows with the interior dialogue between Aaliya and her literary life, the sprawling erudition of her 72 years of reading: its characters are literature itself. Aaliya invokes an enormous cast, from WG Sebald to Spinoza , Stendhal to Cavafy , the multitude of voices that speaks in her head, illuminating or questioning her routine quotidian existence. I have to mention here that just because I slept with an AK in place of a husband …does not make me insane.

Literature is my sandbox … If literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass — an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me life, and life kills me. Like Aaliya herself, it would seem to be supernumerary. My body is full of sentences and moments, my heart resplendent with lovely turns of phrases, but neither is able to be touched by another. Two people have succeeded in truly touching Aaliya. Like Aaliya, Hannah is, strictly speaking, de trop , but with a little self-delusion she found a happy and productive place for herself.

The loss of that illusion destroyed her. Aaliya, too, prickly and proud as she is, will find herself reduced to a kind of nakedness before the novel is done.

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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. If there are flaws to this beautiful and absorbing novel, they are not readily apparent. Kellman, The Boston Globe. Alameddine makes it clear that a sheltered life is not necessarily a shuttered one. About how, in the end, what is hollow and unneeded becomes full, essential and enduring. An Unnecessary Woman is not a game, though; it is a grave, powerful book.


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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. You just might find a home within its pages. A gemlike and surprisingly lively study of an interior life. Dip into it, make a reading list from it, or simply bask in its sharp, smart prose. 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.

A delightful story for true bibliophiles, full of humanity and compassion. 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.

Complex, in other words, and real. Aaliyah embodies the self-determination of both the feminist and the writer, and exhibits vulnerability, determination and wisdom. For every canonical seduction, there is pause for the folly of disconnection, the vanity of denial.

An Unnecessary Woman charms with expressive cynicism and inadvertent optimism, shining a unique light on the art of storytelling. 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.

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REVIEW: 'An Unnecessary Woman,' by Rabih Alameddine

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.

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. 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. 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.

An Unnecessary Woman | District of Columbia Public Library

Alameddine maintains a steady electric current between past and present, fantasy and reality. Allow me to offer a mild defense for being distracted.

Rabih Alameddine reads from An Unnecessary Woman

I do minor final corrections, set the pages in order, and place them in the box. This is part of the ritual, which includes imbibing two glasses of red wine.