An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

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‘Shame. Such a worrywart I am. I miss miracles blooming before my eyes: I concentrate on a fading star and miss the constellation.’

 

Having just reviewed his forthcoming novel, The Angel of History- I wanted to add my review of this wonderful novel to my blog. I will be playing catch up and posting reviews of novels past that I reviewed on goodreads.

Rabih Alameddine is a celebrated writer in the middle east and I feel ridiculous because the entire time I was reading this through netgalley I thought it was written by a woman. I mean that as a compliment, I felt I knew the women, all at varying times and ages. The story was nothing like I expected it to be from reading the blurb. After reading An Unnecessary Woman I understand why the blurb doesn’t do it justice, it is a hard book to describe because there is a lot going on. It’s about far more than an obsessive, introverted, childless, sixty something year old book translator.
Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her apartment in Beirut, an unwanted widowed daughter in her family seen as selfish and ‘unnecessary.’ We learn all about her life through her musings, reminiscing, and her wonderful quoting of literary classics. As Aaliya’s memory goes from past to present the reader is witness to the ravages of war, of time on an aging body, the pull of memory, and how literature shapes and saves some of us. Aaliya has a love affair with literature as much as another woman could have with a man. Don’t be fooled into thinking Aaliya is a dusty character, as ‘women of a certain age’ are often overlooked in life and literature, because she is sharp, funny, weary and wise.
There is heartbreak here, but not of the romantic kind. An important person to Aaliya in the novel suddenly sees the reality of what she built her life upon and it changes everything. There are many kinds of love- for books, family, friends.
Here is just a taste of his writing.

‘Shame. Such a worrywart I am. I miss miracles blooming before my eyes: I concentrate on a fading star and miss the constellation.’

‘My soul is fate’s chew toy. My destiny pursues me like an experienced tracker, like a malevolent hunter, bites me and won’t let go.’

and on the humorous side ‘..You’re just as loud and inappropriate as she is. What happened to your manners?’
‘They aged,’ Fadia says. ‘They grew old to keep me young.’

“There must be a word in some language that describes the anguish you experience upon suddenly coming face-to-face with your terrifying future.’

There are many beautiful sentences, paragraphs I could share but it would rob others of the pleasure reading the book gives. I learned things I hadn’t known about Lebanon, I looked at classics differently, I enjoyed how the famous quotes related to Aaliya’s life. I was in agreement to her distaste in epiphanies in literature and the need the western world has for psychology in novels, because it is true. What I loved most of all was her contrariness and the possibility that she has her own epiphanies. This novel is not for the light reader, but for a thinking one. I devoured it in a day but I know it will remain with me longer. I recognize Aaliya and all of the women in the story as those I already know, will meet or may one day be. This is a really good book.

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