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One of Beirut’s most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine follows his international bestseller, The Hakawati, with a heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way. Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and child One of Beirut’s most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine follows his international bestseller, The Hakawati, with a heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way. Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, 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 have never been read—by anyone. After overhearing her neighbors, "the three witches,” discussing her too-white hair, Aaliya accidentally dyes her hair too blue. 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. Insightful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s 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 gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of a single woman's reclusive life in the Middle East.

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30 review for La dona de paper (Catalan Edition)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”Although I know the characters of a novel as a collection of scenes as well, as accumulated sentences in my head. I feel I know them better than I do my mother. I fill in the blanks with literary personas better than I do with real people, or maybe I make more of an effort. I know Lolita’s mother better than I do mine, and I must say, I feel her more than I feel my mother. I recognize Rembrandt’s painted face of his mother better than I recognize the real face of mine.” Aaliya’s city otherwise ”Although I know the characters of a novel as a collection of scenes as well, as accumulated sentences in my head. I feel I know them better than I do my mother. I fill in the blanks with literary personas better than I do with real people, or maybe I make more of an effort. I know Lolita’s mother better than I do mine, and I must say, I feel her more than I feel my mother. I recognize Rembrandt’s painted face of his mother better than I recognize the real face of mine.” Aaliya’s city otherwise known as Beirut. Aaliya has issues with her mother. Everytime she looks in the mirror she notices: ”I have my mother’s nose, which these days looks like a scimitar buried in slain flesh.” Her mother was always so supportive of her reading...well...not really.. ”Of course I remember various permutations of the ‘Who will want to marry you if you read so much?’ lecture, but I also had to endure the chilly ‘Don’t try to be so different from normal people.’ Different from normal people? When I first hear that, I was sorely offended. I thought every person should live for art, not just me, and furthermore, why would I want to be normal? Why should I want to be stupid like everyone else?” Aaliya does marry, not a man out of literature although he might have slithered out of a Dicken’s novel as one of his more seedier creations. He certainly isn’t a stride across the moors kind of guy. Fortunately his flag won’t raise and he divorces Aaliya for being barren. Beirut Bookstore...Aaliya kept her bookstore much cleaner and more organized than this guy. Her friend Hannah helps her get a job in a bookstore. It wasn’t easy, the owner a preening fool who wants to own a bookstore just so he can say he owns a bookstore, is looking for a woman with movie star beauty not someone like Aaliya, but one after another these pretty bobbles he hires get married and so he finally, reluctantly, agrees to hire Aaliya. The last thing she is looking for is a husband. The owner, fortunately, hears the siren song of his lavish lifestyle and leaves Aaliya to manage the store however she wishes to. He pays her crap wages. She makes up for it by stealing books. One by one, they make the furtive journey to her apartment. She has plans for the very best of them. She knows English and French and she begins translating these books into Arabic. ”I create and crate.” Once finished she no longer has any interest in them. Publish you say? Perish the thought. Who would be interested in the workings of a madwoman? She loves Beirut. She’s still beautiful, you can’t ignore her, but she is crumbling around the edges. Elizabeth Taylor and Beirut are sisters in spirit. ”Beirut is the Elizabeth Taylor of cities: insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart, aging, and forever drama laden. She’ll also marry any infatuated suitor who promises to make her life more comfortable, no matter how inappropriate he is.” Of course, like most Americans, what I remember about Beirut happened in 1983 when a suicide truck bomber blew up a Marine barracks killing 241 American servicemen. I didn’t realize until I started reading this book how much resentment I still felt over that incident, even though it wasn’t so much the Lebanese attacking Americans as it was crazy, religious fanatics that happened to be Lebanese. Anyway, it is so cool, that now my somewhat sour view of Beirut has been replaced by this charming, acerbic, book obsessed little old lady. ”When you write about the past, you lie with each letter, with every grapheme, including the goddamn comma.” If the world was filled with book obsessed readers there would never be civil wars. They are simply too noisy with all the chatter of gunfire and the screaming of wounded people, not to mention the thump of mortars exploding may cause books to leap from their shelves. It is difficult with the constant barrages of noises to settle down properly with a good book. It just wouldn’t do. So who is Aaliya’s favorite philosopher? (view spoiler)[The philosopher I feel the most kinship with is Spinoza; I identify with his story and his life. The Jewish elders of Amsterdam issued a cherem--a fatwa, for you non-Hebrew speakers--against my kinsman when he was a mere twenty-three. He was excommunicated for his heresies. He didn’t fight it, didn’t rebel. He didn’t even whine. He gave up his family inheritance and became a private scholar; a philosopher at home.” (hide spoiler)] The Philosopher So what does Aaliya think about Faulkner vs. Hemingway? (view spoiler)[ “I consider it a shame that most contemporary American writing seems informed more by Hemingway, the hero of adolescent boys of all ages and genders, than by the sui generis genius of letters, Faulkner. A phalanx of books about boredom in the Midwest is lauded (where the Midwest lies is a source of constant puzzlement to me, somewhere near Iowa I presume), as are books about unexplored angst in New Jersey or couples unable to communicate in Connecticut. (hide spoiler)] It was Camus who asserted that American novelists are the only one who think they need not be intellectuals. She digresses in the middle of her story with such gems as this. ”In one of his essays, (Javier) Marias suggest that his work deals as much with what didn’t happen as with what happened. In other words, most of us believe we are who we are because of the decisions we’ve made, because of events that shaped us, because of the choices of those around us. We rarely consider that we’re also formed by the decisions we didn’t make, by events that could have happened but didn’t, or by our lack of choices, for that matter.” I’ve had one of those weeks where words like this are so much more profound; and though scary, are after more pondering...comforting. There are so much more that I wish I could share with you, but I want every person who reads this review to read this book. You have to know how this mild mannered woman acquires an AK-47. It makes me smile every time I think about it. You need to make a list of all the fabulous books that with just a few lines of praise from Aaliya will have you salivating to read them. You must read about her Joseph Conradesque mishap. Her bottle blue misfortune. You will have to wait until nearly the last page before she reveals what her favorite book is. It is an interesting choice. ”When I read a book, I try my best, not always successfully, to let the wall crumble just a bit, the barricade that separates me from the book. I try to be involved. I am Rasholnikov. I am K. I am Humbert and Lolita. I am you." I do believe I’m in love with a 72 year old Lebanese woman living in Beirut. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Update to review, October, 2017: First, I agree with my initial review completely. I love the book, again, in the same and new ways. This time I read it more slowly, giving attention to Alameddine's prose, his style and the actual words and phrases he used in describing Aaliya, her neighbors, family, neighborhood, and city. This time I became captivated by Aaliya in a different way--by her struggle with an uncaring family in her youth, a struggle that has lasted her entire life; by the strength o Update to review, October, 2017: First, I agree with my initial review completely. I love the book, again, in the same and new ways. This time I read it more slowly, giving attention to Alameddine's prose, his style and the actual words and phrases he used in describing Aaliya, her neighbors, family, neighborhood, and city. This time I became captivated by Aaliya in a different way--by her struggle with an uncaring family in her youth, a struggle that has lasted her entire life; by the strength of her will and her intellect in the face of a society who has little room for her; by her struggle with an aging body in a war-ravaged city trying to renew itself; by her struggle to find purpose in her life of books, a life she has kept hidden from the world. What I found on this second reading were signs of the world's encroachment into her solitude, in tiny ways to be sure, but in ways that didn't cause her to run, that led her to wonder about tomorrow and to wonder who might be IN her tomorrow besides herself. So I am quietly even more happy at the end of this reading than I was when I finished three+ years ago. Thank you Mr. Alameddine. ........................................................................................................................................................... Absolutely wonderful on so many levels. An Unnecessary Woman will undoubtedly be high on my list of favorite books of 2014. I've already planned to read it again and many of the books that Aaliya, our narrator, mentions, are on my reading list already. Some have now jumped higher! When I read about this book, I learned that it was about a woman who worked in a bookstore and translates books into Arabic. Oh but it is so much more than this! It is the story of Beirut and Aaliya, the personal and religious and political and civic wars they have been through together. It is the story of a woman who has found a way to survive and how books and the life of the mind are both solace and salvation---except when they aren't. I have so many highlighted sections that it becomes difficult to choose. Shall I pick one related to her family, her home, her city, her books? Aaliya says: I can dig out the old chestnut from George Santayana, that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," but it serves no purpose. It's a hopelessly optimistic quote. We are condemned to repeat the past whether we remember it or not. It is inevitable; just ask Nietzsche (eternal return) or Hegel (history repeats itself) or James McCourt (history repeats itself like hiccups).... I'm fond of Mark Twain's quote: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." (loc 2164) As you can see from the end of that selection there is humor amidst the gloom. There are some very funny moments and some extremely touching ones that made me remember moments with loved ones. I hesitate to share too many. I want the reader to experience them for themselves. It will not matter if you do not know all the books Aaliya mentions though it did add a spark to my reading to know that I would be reading some soon. Another surprise for me (and it probably shouldn't be) is that the author is male. He captures this aging woman so well. Well, enough said. I could write forever but I must end. Read this book. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    Rabih Alameddine is a name-dropper. By page 61 of this really exceptional novel he had dropped Sebald, Bolano, Svevo, Pessoa, Javier Marías, Dickens, Calvino, Balzac, Nabokov, Conrad, Donne, Bataille, Miller, Moravia, Shulz, Chekov, de Sade, Jong, Keats, Proulx, Garner, Rilke, Marquez, Burroughs, Mann, Becket, Welty, Saramago, Cioran and his favorite Arab writers of erotica: al-Tifashi, al-Tijani and al-Tusi. He has something to say about each of them. And then, in a flourish, in the next two pa Rabih Alameddine is a name-dropper. By page 61 of this really exceptional novel he had dropped Sebald, Bolano, Svevo, Pessoa, Javier Marías, Dickens, Calvino, Balzac, Nabokov, Conrad, Donne, Bataille, Miller, Moravia, Shulz, Chekov, de Sade, Jong, Keats, Proulx, Garner, Rilke, Marquez, Burroughs, Mann, Becket, Welty, Saramago, Cioran and his favorite Arab writers of erotica: al-Tifashi, al-Tijani and al-Tusi. He has something to say about each of them. And then, in a flourish, in the next two pages, he rattles off Camus, Duras, Faulkner, Hemingway, Díaz, Hemon, Coetzee, Gordimer, Farah, Malouf, Kundera, Kadare, Tolstoy, Gogol, Hamsun, Borges, Nooteboom, Karasu, Nádas, Kiš, and Kafka. I may have missed a few; and he doesn’t stop there. There will be much to say about Proust. Alameddine is able to do this without being as entirely gratuitous as Hollywood nudity by making his female protagonist, Aaliya Saleh, a bookstore employee, a thief of books from that same bookstore, and a solitary, secret translator of great literature. Aaliya is 72. After a very brief marriage, her impotent husband, a listless mosquito with a malfunctioning proboscis, in compliance with Lebanese law, stood before her in their living room and announced, “Woman, you are divorced.” Tfeh, Aaliya remembers. She is cynical and crusty, and happy to be alone with her books. (Although, she has less good to say about McEwan and Hemingway than she does about humanity in general.) I keep saying she, but it is of course really Alameddine speaking through her. This is a novel for bibliophiles, a Smörgåsbord of literary allusions, opinions, even reviews. But it is also a poem to the discovery of music, one that almost precisely mirrored my own. Aaliya would see a reference to a musical piece in her reading and then seek out the music itself, first as vinyl but later on CD. With limited funds, she wondered what artist, what composer, what orchestra to buy. She liked the yellow label of Deutsche Grammophon, and figured Germans would know how to produce the loftiest of music, so that informed her selections. It would be Pogorelich’s Chopin she would hear. It was a feeling of déjà vu as I read this, remembering a college immersion into Hesse, and how that led me to the library to find St. Matthew’s Passion, and how, even now, the rows of yellow labels stare back at me, including Pogorelich’s Chopin. But this book was not simply Alameddine showing off his shelves. To speak of Love, he had Aaliya’s friend write in her diary that “My heart had momentarily found its pestle.” And he writes with humor: You can tell how well a marriage is working by the number of bite marks on each partner’s tongue. Mr. Hayek had none. Of the city of his birth, where the events of the novel take place: Beirut is the Elizabeth Taylor of cities: insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart, aging, and forever drama laden. She’ll also marry any infatuated suitor who promises to make her life more comfortable, no matter how inappropriate he is. Alameddine quotes Alain Robbe-Grillet to say that the worst thing to happen to the novel was the arrival of psychology. If this were a novel, you would be able to figure out why my mother screamed. Hah! I’ve read so many recent novels, particularly those published in the Anglo world, that are dull and trite because I’m always supposed to infer causality. Whoa! Who you calling ‘Anglo’? But, seriously, he really put his finger on something there, didn’t he? This was intelligent, controlled, poignant. I read on the edge of my seat, not looking for what would happen next, but for what he would say next. Like this: I may be able to explain the difference between baroque and rococo, between South American magical realism and its counterparts in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, between Camus’s nihilism and Sartre’s existentialism, between modernism and its post, but don’t ask me to tell you the difference between the Nasserites and the Baathists. … Samir Kassir … differentiates them thus: Arab nationalists who converted to socialism and socialists newly alert to the mobilizing virtues of nationalism. Decipher that. Need I tell you that Baathists and Nasserites have killed each other by the busload? One’s first response is that these Beirutis must be savagely insane to murder each other for such trivial divergences. Don’t judge us too harshly. At the heart of most antagonisms are irreconcilable similarities. Hundred-year wars were fought over whether Jesus was human in divine form or divine in human form. Belief is murderous. Aaliya: a life lived amongst music and books. Epicurean. Non fui; fui; non sum; non curo.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 4.25* of five The Publisher Says: One of Beirut’s most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine follows his international bestseller, The Hakawati, with a heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way. Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s "unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a n Rating: 4.25* of five The Publisher Says: One of Beirut’s most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine follows his international bestseller, The Hakawati, with a heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way. Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, 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 have never been read—by anyone. After overhearing her neighbors, "the three witches,” discussing her too-white hair, Aaliya accidentally dyes her hair too blue. 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. Insightful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s 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 gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of a single woman's reclusive life in the Middle East. My Review: The Doubleday UK meme, a book a day for July 2014, is the goad I'm using to get through my snit-based unwritten reviews. Today's prompt is to discuss your favorite novel in translation. So far this year, this is my hands-down favorite novel translated from the furrin. **CORRECTION** The novel was written in English, but it's so beautiful I don't want to take it down! What does it mean to be invisible? If you choose not to interact with the world, become a recluse, divest yourself of close relationships and divorce yourself from the life of the boudoir, and seal yourself away in a capsule formed of books and words, you are a freak. Aaliya's neighbors think she's a ruined woman. Aaliya's customers at the bookstore she works at, intellectuals all, don't notice her enough to form an opinion, and her family (absent the dearest companion of her life, her *true* family, a departed friend) hasn't given her much attention at all. She lives in Beirut, that once-fabulous once-gorgeous ruin on the Mediterranean, an early victim of the endless idiotic religious wars of the region. Aaliya represents Beirut's decline from a world-class cultural center to a shuttered mass of broken buildings holding wary, angry people. Aaliya is an angry woman, or at least I see her as such, and has walled herself in to avoid the nasty consequences of being angry amid armed and angry men. She would not be isolated if Beirut wasn't what it is, I think, because she is a reflection of the energy of that wounded and dying place. She preserves her sanity by translating her beloved books, the beauties of which she renders into the sinuous sonorous rhythms of Arabic. And then, like she does with her self, she packages them up and puts them away. They are safe. They are invisible. This is tragic. This is a sin. A woman, a mere woman, cannot be her full self; a book, a useless object, cannot spread its beauties for fear that it will not be appreciated or will be used as a weapon by the religious idiots. And this is the reason I give this book over four stars. Alameddine has created a literary person's most deeply felt example of why the world appears to be headed directly for the bottom of the septic tank: Aaliya reads and thinks on and renders the majesty and magic of words into the language of her people, and then cannot, will not, dare not allow them out of her keeping. This book should have made me feel claustrophobic. It appears to be a scream from within the coffin that anti-intellectual religious idiots are all but nailing shut around the world. (Creation SCIENCE?! REALLY?!) Instead I felt...uplifted in a curious way, heartened, encouraged. Alameddine sees it too! He created this most marginal of marginal beings, the unmarried childless woman intellectual in an Islamic society, and set her to singing. Aaliya sings her thoughts, sings her translations, warbles her precious quotes to herself, her best and only audience. She makes beauty from beauty as she sits and rots in the cesspool of gawd. I don't know if this is a cautionary tale, an elegy, or the quietest jeremiad of all time. I do know that I can't, and don't wish to, forget Aaliya. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This was an 'unnecessary' read for me until the last several pages in which I could fully appreciate the extent and expanse of the story, the character. Prior to that, it was depressive and heavily laden with poetical and literary references that were hurting my head. This is the story of 72 year old Aaliya, from Lebanon. A reflection of her life which she deemed as 'unnecessary'. Her definition being she was a divorcee, a mediocre cook and childless. Yet, she was highly educated, well versed in This was an 'unnecessary' read for me until the last several pages in which I could fully appreciate the extent and expanse of the story, the character. Prior to that, it was depressive and heavily laden with poetical and literary references that were hurting my head. This is the story of 72 year old Aaliya, from Lebanon. A reflection of her life which she deemed as 'unnecessary'. Her definition being she was a divorcee, a mediocre cook and childless. Yet, she was highly educated, well versed in 3 languages and as a hobby, translated literary works. This in a society that oppressed women, was impressive. During difficult years, however, books became both her refuge and her prison. Overall 3.5*

  6. 4 out of 5

    Seemita

    Was it necessary to read ‘An Unnecessary Woman’? About a woman in the twilight of her life, a product of rusted times? A woman from a foreign land, and of foreign blood? A woman who offered pursed whimpers amid teeth that reeked soupy yellow? One with a musty room and a flickering temper? A borderline linguist who made peace with the unspoken word? She was nothing more than a drifting sprinkle of dust in this swirling world of men and ambition. May be, it wasn’t. It wasn’t necessary at all to re Was it necessary to read ‘An Unnecessary Woman’? About a woman in the twilight of her life, a product of rusted times? A woman from a foreign land, and of foreign blood? A woman who offered pursed whimpers amid teeth that reeked soupy yellow? One with a musty room and a flickering temper? A borderline linguist who made peace with the unspoken word? She was nothing more than a drifting sprinkle of dust in this swirling world of men and ambition. May be, it wasn’t. It wasn’t necessary at all to read An Unnecessary Woman. But I read it. And I read her. And read her more. Every page. Every day. Multiple times. In mornings and evenings. In transit and while stationed. Under dim lights. Beneath cloudy skies. I read her. And met her. And met myself. And loved her. And loved myself. Was she I? Not really. She, a septuagenarian and I, almost four decades late. She, a prisoner of Beiruti conservatism and I, a falcon of Indian liberalism. She, a broken rhapsody of relationships and I, a supple bounty of companionship. And yet, she appeared familiar. Almost like the reflection in a broken mirror which makes up for the lost pieces by producing the remnant image, in sparkling, contrasting sharpness. She, Aaliya, was that remnant image. There, within the periphery of what was visible, she cloned me. She, a reluctant neighbor and I, an enthusiastic hermit. She, with a saber tongue and I, with an acerbic voice. She, with her back to the world and I, behind dark-black glasses. She, a passionate translator of Hamsun and Borges, Pessoa and Proust and I, a passionate reader of these great creators. Crates, crates, boxes, and crates. The translated manuscripts have the two books, French and English, affixed to the side of the box for identification. Tolstoy, Gogol, and Hamsun; Calvino, Borges, Schulz, Nádas, Nooteboom; Kiš, Karasu, and Kafka; books of memory, disquiet, but not of laughter and forgetting. Aaliya parades on lyrical comprehensions and deadpan jibes. She is fatally struck by the indifference settled on the eyes of the current generation towards the power of books. She chokes at the comatose sentiment emanating from most streets of the post-war Beirut – the thuds of inertia and acceptance that grinds the air in most homes of her beloved land. And I, well, don’t feel far removed. When random strangers in trains and uninvited visitors at home eye my book or the unruly stack of it with apparent incredulity (and gravely visible shock at times, not to mention the spurt of useless blah-blah aimed at me subsequently), I am swamped by the disdain that Aaliya writes with such flourish in her journal. When poisonous bugs of conservatism, fanaticism, prejudice and stereotypes keep eating at the foundation of the shining body of a nation we are proudly building, I give a muffled cry at the workmen not reading enough to squash them with permanent antidote. Aaliya and I are citizens of the reading world and would shiver if asked to step out of it unless the external world imbibed the ingredients of our present world. Literature gives me life, and life kills me. Was it necessary, then, to read ‘An Unnecessary Woman’? Yes. Indeed. Because our antidote is literature, and our dawn, possible. ---- Also on my blog.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Garima

    The usual mood that prevails while reading ‘An Unnecessary Woman’ is something that can be observed during the time of a candid conversation with a fellow book lover who not only share your passion for books but also have similar reading preferences for most of the part. Mention of a personal favorite writer here, an interesting anecdote there and embellishing such dreamlike atmosphere with some lovely quotes. It’s like a sensible pampering of a reader’s soul in the most fun and exciting way pos The usual mood that prevails while reading ‘An Unnecessary Woman’ is something that can be observed during the time of a candid conversation with a fellow book lover who not only share your passion for books but also have similar reading preferences for most of the part. Mention of a personal favorite writer here, an interesting anecdote there and embellishing such dreamlike atmosphere with some lovely quotes. It’s like a sensible pampering of a reader’s soul in the most fun and exciting way possible. I’m not sure that the discovery of love is necessarily more exquisite than the discovery of poetry, or more sensuous for that matter. Under the perforated shade of Lebanese skyline, the windows of crumbling apartments are still dusty because of the nature’s fury and human bestiality but Aaliya needs to go on with her life even when the life itself seems indifferent to her existence. This is all acceptable to our protagonist as long as the disquiet of Pessoa empathizes with her world and Yourcenar’s Hadrian is there to give her a royal company. Her introversion is compensated through the regular wanderings within the pages of classics and contemporary literature alike which features the delightful motley of familiar book jackets on display that one look at them and you’re sucked into a hypnotic spell of unadulterated beauty of words. Ah, the deliciousness of discovering a masterwork. My heart begins to lift. I can see myself sitting all day in my chair, immersed in lives, plots, and sentences, intoxicated by words and chimeras, paralyzed by satisfaction and contentment, reading until the deepening twilight, until I can no longer make out the words, until my mind begins to wander, until my aching muscles are no longer able to keep the book aloft. Joy is the anticipation of joy. But SNAP! In a way, it’s possible to both overestimate and underestimate this book. Somewhere post 200 page mark, when the fantastic first impressions mellowed a bit, a kind of reality check appeared out of nowhere or maybe I failed to notice it before in my giddy excitement. I know, I understand and I love the idea of such books but something seemed compromised here and that something was the narrative voice of Aaliya and subsequently Aaliya’s not that unnecessary life. Rabih took over that narrative and not in a convincing way and I can’t give a convincing explanation as to what exactly I mean by that. Simply put, what started out as clever went on to becoming too obvious and ceased to remain fascinating because of the lack of subtlety which I believe this novel demanded and deserved. So all this bothered me to some extent but weighing it against the wonderful time I got out of my reading especially the laugh-out-loud humor and some evocative writing, the eventual deal turned out to be a worthy one. So a recommended read with few caveats and you’ll probably say something of the following nature after reading it: a) Now I know the brilliance other people vouched for. b) I can’t see what the fuss is all about. c) It’s great to good to uh-oh but good nevertheless. (The ever ambivalent Me) d) Work-in-progress options. I’ll probably be incinerated with my books.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vessey

    “There is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship” David Foster Wallace "Perhaps reading and writing books is one of the last defences human dignity has left, because in the end they remind us of what God once reminded us before He too evaporated in this age of relentless humiliations - that we are more than ourselves; that we have souls." Richard Flanagan Aaliya does not believe in God (to her he is “There is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship” David Foster Wallace "Perhaps reading and writing books is one of the last defences human dignity has left, because in the end they remind us of what God once reminded us before He too evaporated in this age of relentless humiliations - that we are more than ourselves; that we have souls." Richard Flanagan Aaliya does not believe in God (to her he is a Nazi) and the Bible. "Would Noah have allowed a lesbian zebra aboard, an unmarried hedgehog, a limping lemur? Me thinks not.” (Me thinks yes. At least the unmarried hedgehog. Hedgehog sounds kind of aritstocratic.) She worships and believes in literature. Just like God, it has many faces and names, but unlike God, it offers answers. We might happen to like or dislike those answers, but they are always there. We only need to look for them. Of course, the tricky part is to know which ones to look for. Sometimes finding out the right questions to ask is as hard as discovering their answers. What did I ask Aaliya entering her solitary, but rich life? What answers did she give me? Vessey: If you could trade places with any character, who would that be? Aaliya: The quiet one. For he/she is never unprepared. It is those, who know how to listen that know how to speak. I have little to say, but a lot to learn and a lot to give. I have no voice. I have no face. I am as quiet and invisible as a drop of rain piercing boisterous and stormy sea. Yet, I live and speak through others. When my mind crosses with Her mind, I am as sonorous and strong and beautiful as She is. Vessey: And is She cruel or merciful? Aaliya: She is a mirror and we see in Her that which we already have inside of us. She treats as we treat Her. Literature: I am everywhere, I have many names, I have myriad faces, I have millions of friends. And enemies. I have borne so many wounds. I have been mocked, insulted, ignored, left, burned. Many have tried to destroy me. But I always come back. I am ancient and eternal. I know no limits, no death. I possess many worlds, many people. I wield all languages. I am beautiful and complex. I am pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow, fear and desire. I am you. You will always find yourself in me. I am the mirror of the world. I always take a piece of you and give another in return. What you do with it depends solely on you. My faces are many and different. I have many masters and I am entirely in their power. They all shape me differently. Sometimes I am sublime, sometimes mediocre. Sometimes my voice has vigorous power, sometimes it is barely audible. I unite and divide, I reveal and conceal. I break hearts. I put them back together. I am mystery and revelation. I am Goddess that needs no fear, no submission. I don’t punish, I don’t avenge. I need no sanctuaries, no cults or prayers, no wars in my name. I don’t need to be explained and understood. I need no protection. For I shall always return to those who seek me. I am always reborn. Through you I live many lives. Through me you live many more. We live within each other. Just like Aaliya, all I need is to be needed. Vessey: But what about those heathens that need you not? Do they fill your heart with longing, loneliness? Do you have within you empty spaces, each bearing the shape of some of them? Literature: They rarely seek me. But I always seek them. And it always happens so that some of them find themselves converted. Just like sometimes some of my followers turn against me. They hide away, for sometimes even I cannot help them. My empty spaces have their shapes. For just like I always return, so do they. For I am protection and sanctuary. I am love and addiction. I am forever. Did our short conversation leave me richer, wiser, more ready to listen (to those around me and to myself)? Was my patience justified? Is what I got more than what I gave? And isn’t it an equal exchange (giving and receiving in equal degrees) that makes every journey worthwhile? Isn’t giving just another form of getting and vice versa? I know that amalgamation of the two is in the heart of every profound connection. I was given a lot by Aaliya and I’m giving it all to you, and doing so makes me feel blessed. We live to share and we share to live. I wish to share all that I am with you. Read count: 1

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    4.5 Rating! Until I came to page 195 --I was sure I was going to give this book a 5 star rating. The positives for this book are STRONG!!!!! The negative-- on the top half of page 195 does not sit right with me! This is what The New York Times wrote about this book: ....(I 'almost' agree) "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 appar 4.5 Rating! Until I came to page 195 --I was sure I was going to give this book a 5 star rating. The positives for this book are STRONG!!!!! The negative-- on the top half of page 195 does not sit right with me! This is what The New York Times wrote about this book: ....(I 'almost' agree) "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". YES...'THE FLAW' --(on page 195) --completely shifted my 'zen-space-of-enjoyable-reading-experience'! --What the author wrote at the top of page 195 did not ADD ANY value to the storytelling --(it wasn't worth the risk)... Being Jewish-- I was offended! I would bet Israeli's might feel pissed! But damn --I don't want to make this entire review about one paragraph! Yet ---make clear --I didn't like it! As for the rest of the book (personal emotions aside for page 195)... I LOVED LOVED 'EVERYTHING' else!!!! The 72 year old narrator -grabs your attention with the first sentence of the book --(and keeps it -with every word she writes -to its end) The first sentence: ...."You could say I was thinking of other things when I shampooed my hair blue, and two glasses of red wine didn't help my concentration". Other Quotes which stand out for me: ...."I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books. Transmuting this sandy metaphor, 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. Well, life kills everyone." ....In one of the few Hemingway stories that I don't find wholly insufferable, "Hills Like White Elephants", ...... I'm interested in something the author wrote...(the narrator's voice), about her take on Hemingway and American writers. I found it fascinating what the narrator thought about American contemporary writers. She said, "its only American writers that don't seem to think they need to be intellectuals". A bold statement. (maybe a little arrogant, to boot) ...."Pessoa, more a connoisseur of alienation than even Flaubert, wrote: "I've surrounded the garden of my being with high iron gratings --more imposing than any stone wall-- in such a way that I can perfectly see others while perfectly excluding them, keeping them in their place as others". Wonderful book --I loved the literature parts the best. Several authors I don't know: Bruno Schulz, Federico Garcia Lorca --to name a couple. (yet, I plan to look them up)... Whew...well, this review turned out longer than I should be asking any of you to read.... Please forgive me! Its a phenomenal book... (yes, I felt angry with the narrators 'opinion'...having a raw gut reaction: its just too personal for 'me'), otherwise, this novel is beautiful! Worth reading!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    The words ‘in my element’ flashed through my mind several times as I was reading this book because I was literally in my element, as if the adverb ‘literally’ and the phrase ‘in my element’ had been invented so that I could apply them to the experience of reading An Unnecessary Woman. It seemed as if the book concerned me and my life in a very personal way, though I am not a self-taught Lebanese intellectual, as is Rabih Alameddine’s narrator, Aaliya Sohbi. If the book spoke to me so intimately, The words ‘in my element’ flashed through my mind several times as I was reading this book because I was literally in my element, as if the adverb ‘literally’ and the phrase ‘in my element’ had been invented so that I could apply them to the experience of reading An Unnecessary Woman. It seemed as if the book concerned me and my life in a very personal way, though I am not a self-taught Lebanese intellectual, as is Rabih Alameddine’s narrator, Aaliya Sohbi. If the book spoke to me so intimately, and surely to many like me, it is because it is about indulging in books the way other people indulge in fine cigars, or chocolate, or spa treatments. It is about being immersed in literature to such an extent that literary associations and connections become part of the way a person operates in the world, every event in their lives recalling a quote or a character or a dilemma in literature. Aaliya Sohbi is someone who believes, as I do, that we appreciate writers better when we copy out their words; I have a notebook full of quotes which I very much enjoyed transcribing in black ink onto fresh white pages. Today I may have shelved the notebook and the ink pen but I still enjoy typing interesting sentences into the updates feature here on goodreads. I always feel I’ve understood a writer’s thoughts better when I’ve taken the time to copy out some of her words, and the thoughts behind the words become more memorable as a result. The reviews I post are a further effort to get under the skin of a reading experience. Some people might call that a waste of time, an 'unnecessary' activity. Such reviews aren’t read by anyone, they might say, or at the very best, they have the life of a mayfly, a brief twenty-four hours in the goodreads sun. What is the point of all that effort for twenty-four brief hours, they ask? I answer that the writing of the reviews has sealed the books into my psyche forever, but they don’t understand such an incorporeal notion or see any utility in it whatsoever. They would no doubt be even more categorically negative about the ‘unnecessaryness' of the pastime Alameddine has given his narrator: Aaliya translates books into Arabic, but only books that she has read in translation, i.e. books that have been translated from languages she doesn't speak into French and English, the two languages she does speak, along with Arabic. She translates translations as a challenge to herself, and in an effort to understand the translated books better. The translation of translations is entirely for her own pleasure and she never seeks to have them published (a publisher once approached her requesting a translation into Arabic of an American celebrity’s biography but she declined). She takes a year with each translation, working from both the English and the French editions of the book, and when she has finished, she places the hand-written sheets of paper, covered in beautiful Arabic script, carefully in a box which she seals. On the lid, as a kind of inscription, she affixes the French and English versions she has used to make her Arabic conversion. Then she places the box beside the pile of other such boxes in an unused room, a room that resembles a tomb in many ways, since it has no window and no one ever enters it, apart from herself, and then only once a year when she adds a new box. She has never opened the lid of any box once it has been sealed. I should say here that what I have described is revealed in the blurb of the book or in the early pages, and the story Alameddine gives us is only indirectly about Aaliya's translations. She doesn’t do any ‘translating’ inside the pages of this book; she's between translations, as it were, and the account of her Bloom-like walk through the city of Beirut during a three day period at the end of December is very interesting, especially for her literature-filled thoughts while rambling the streets, or while sipping tea in her apartment, or even while trying to avoid talking to her neighbors or her family. But those aspects of the book, while very cleverly done, and a joy to read for the literary, philosophical and classical allusions, are not what I want to focus on. If I’ve stressed the translation aspect of Aaliya’s life, it's because it allows me to examine that provoking word 'unnecessary' in the title. There are many themes in this book that I could focus on: history and geography, philosophy and politics, literature and translation, family and friendship, birth and death, but I only want to deal with that one word, 'unnecessary'. To me, that word is like an electrified probe, it goads me, and I think it goaded Alameddine too, forcing him to write this book around the idea of it. He is making a lot of points with that one word, and he draws on the writings and experiences of several authors to make his case, in particular Bruno Schulz. Schulz, a Polish writer and artist, was shot in the ghetto at Drohobych, having initially been reprieved by an SS officer and labelled a ‘necessary’ Jew (unlike most of the population who, being ‘unnecessary’ were sent to concentration camps or were shot immediately). Schulz's temporary reprieve was ironically due to his artistic abilities; the officer simply needed him to paint murals in his house. Alameddine, by highlighting that anecdote, raises all sorts of questions about the label ‘unnecessary’; in the eyes of Beiruti society (and many other societies), a woman like Aaliya whose parents were Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who is a divorced (read 'discarded' by her husband), childless bluestocking (and in addition, an unbeliever), a woman who neither knits garments for her relatives, nor eternally chops vegetables for their endless meals, is almost the epitome of ‘unnecessary’. The notion of 'unecessary' can also be applied to another writer referenced frequently in this book (the author mentions over one hundred writers in all, and quotes quite a few of them). The Portuguese writer and poet Fernando Pessoa was dismissed as a dandy in his lifetime and when he died he left a trunkful of unfinished and unpublished manuscripts. His philosophy, the only attitude worthy of a superior man is to persist in an activity he recognizes is useless, to observe a discipline he knows is sterile, and to apply certain norms of philosophical and metaphysical thought that he considers utterly inconsequential, fits with Aaliya’s ‘unnecessary’ mode of existence almost perfectly. Like Pessoa, she understands that her life’s work is not of benefit to anyone but herself yet she is absolutely rigorous in all matters relating to that work, keeping to a strict schedule once she has selected a text to translate and working at it as if her life depended on it. And her life does depend on it, because the making of the translation is everything to her whereas the end result, though not quite nothing, is much less important. I’m reminded of a Czech author whose work is very apropos of this notion of the ‘unnecessary’. Bohumil Hrabal created a character in Too Loud a Solitude whose life was dedicated to the fabrication of art objects, which, though ephemeral, gave a last triumphant moment of glory to the piles of banned books destined for destruction by the Prague authorities. For Hrabal’s hero Hantá, it is also only the process that counts; the product is destroyed on completion (and I wonder if I could have recalled the details of Hrabal’s book if I hadn’t written a review about it, a review which now lies on my gr shelves and may never see the light of a gr day again, but it doesn’t matter, non curo, because the essence of the book will stay in my mind forever). Virginia Woolf said something in her diaries which echoes this idea of process versus result: The truth is, that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial. (and, again, could I have recalled that line had I not used it in my review of her Writer's Diary? I suspect not). Many writers are therefore giving us the same message: that the exercise of writing is what matters the most. And with that thought, it’s time for me to bring this 'unnecessary' exercise to a close - though I’m not too concerned about the conclusion (as I wasn’t very concerned with the ending of the book) because the examination of the thoughts triggered by Alemeddine’s title and by many of his words have satisfied me enough, and more than

  11. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    Of course, the moment of enlightenment was when dear Aaliyo discovered coffee. The coffee is ambrosia, a flavor of heaven. And that's how my mind worked at the end of this book. A little bit of my own trumpery about the life of the seventy-two-year-old woman in Beiroet. So jejune of me. After all, Aaliya Sohbi lived alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. "Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s "unnecessary appendage.” Three witches, as she Of course, the moment of enlightenment was when dear Aaliyo discovered coffee. The coffee is ambrosia, a flavor of heaven. And that's how my mind worked at the end of this book. A little bit of my own trumpery about the life of the seventy-two-year-old woman in Beiroet. So jejune of me. After all, Aaliya Sohbi lived alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. "Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s "unnecessary appendage.” Three witches, as she called her neighbors, kept her connected to reality with their morning rituals in the apartment block they all reside in for many years. But Aaliyo's real friends were the characters in the mountains of books stacked up in her living space. And then there was her best friend Hannah. She misplaced God's light one day ... and left her diaries to Aaliyo. How simple could it get? Just a little slip of paper stuck to the box of diaries. Hannah's will. With only one name scribbled on it. Had Proust had a say in the events? Perhaps something in this great dandy's text unnerved Hannah? But Hannah was gone, and loneliness became a new reality for Aaliyo. And the uncertainty of what really happened that day in 1972. The diaries conjured up memories, which allowed Ailiyo to drop the wooden pail into the brackish well of memories: her husband; the wars raging in Beiroet; her mother; stepbrothers; the shopowner of the bookstore where she worked; her relationship with fictitious characters in books, the meaning of her 36 translations of English and French books into Arabic. With little interest in the people around her, Aaliyo conversed mostly with herself, with no one to share her thoughts with. Although she preferred not to talk, she observed with a keen eye. I saw a bright orange BMW 2002 refuse to slow for stalled traffic, its driver probably a self-important young man who would soon be ordering his inferiors to murder, maim, and pillage. He swerved to the right to pass a couple of cars and ran right into the back of a mule-drawn cart full of vegetables, primarily cucumbers and tomatoes. No one was hurt, the mule unperturbed, but the wooden cart was crushed. The cart driver fell to the ground, his seat collapsed, fell on his buttocks as if he were in a Charlie Chaplin movie. The BMW driver, the militiaman to be, was covered in vegetables and embarrassment. I was an hour late opening the bookstore because I couldn’t force myself to leave the scene. Even then I realized that I was seeing something extraordinary: new Beirut crashing into old, young driver and old street vendor, modernity rushing in, an orange car covered in red and green, German steel jumbled with Lebanese pine, and everyone in shock. I was spellbound. Through her translations, and due to a lack of finances she could only visit the languorous territories through the miles of words spread out in her books. She wanted her translations to be different. Not like Constance Garnett... If you ask me, though, Garnett’s biggest problem was that she was of her time and place. Her work is a reflection of that; it appealed to the English of her generation, which is as it should be—completely understandable. Unfortunately for everyone, her time and place were maddeningly dull. Old chap and cheap port, that sort of thing. Using Edwardian prose for Dostoyevsky is like adding milk to good tea. Tfeh! The English like that sort of thing... ...I can see myself sitting all day in my chair, immersed in lives, plots, and sentences, intoxicated by words and chimeras, paralyzed by satisfaction and contentment, reading until the deepening twilight, until I can no longer make out the words, until my mind begins to wander, until my aching muscles are no longer able to keep the book aloft. Joy is the anticipation of joy. Reading a fine book for the first time is as sumptuous as the first sip of orange juice that breaks the fast in Ramadan. She was not only isolated from family or neighbors, but also intellectually distanced from the frivolous people around her. There was nobody she could share her opinions with. For instance: I never cared for the story of Noah or Edward Hicks’s stilted paintings of Stepford animals... ...Noah, however, was a son of a bitch of a captain who ran a very tight ship. Only pairs of the best and the brightest were allowed to climb the plank—perpetuate the species, repopulate the planet, and all that Nazi nonsense. Would Noah have allowed a lesbian zebra aboard, an unmarried hedgehog, a limping lemur? Methinks not... But there was the owner of the music store where she, on her auto-didactic quest for learning, discovered the music of Chopin, Beethoven, and then more and more. One record per paycheck. Nongarrulous Beirutis are as rare as vivid primary colors in the snowy Arctic, yet here we were, two of us, patient sufferers of verbal sclerosis, not more than a hundred meters apart... ...The portly owner sat on a high toothpick of a barstool and still had to look up to me. He rarely spoke, yet as we began to know each other and feel comfortable, he’d grunt approval with every purchase. When I first bought 'The Sofia Recital' by Richter, he of the pink plastic lobster, the shop owner’s smile floated toward me like a leaf on a river. With Martha Argerich’s 'Début Recital', his face wore the three-foot grin of an alligator. After such high praise, walking the three-building distance home was torture; I couldn’t wait to listen. And when I bought my first Gould, his eyebrows climbed up his forehead, his eyes shot up to the ceiling. Finally. Perhaps Hannah would have understood Aaliyo's thoughts on self-important men, such as her stepbrother and some world leaders: At the beginning of the civil war in 1975, he put on the cheap camouflage outfit of one of the militias, a tragicomic dress rehearsal. Don’t ask me which militia. I didn’t care then and I don’t now. He looked like a caricature, his spindly torso (not fat then, just slightly convex) decorated with medals and his shoulders with betassled epaulettes, triumphantly imitating Napoleon, the Corsican Comet. Bluster and hubris, that’s what he was, what he is, but that’s what makes him more dangerous in some ways. Think Bush—that indecent amalgam of banality and perdition. How nations sink . . . When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s request. She quietly celebrated her own choices, of being a single woman in a world where marriage dictated a girl's future at birth. Her rebellious, 'eccentric' nature was as recalcitrant as the wrinkles on her face. When she heard the three witches comment on her dull white hair, Aaliyo, on her second whim in her life, accidentally colored her hair blue. The results caused a raging pigment battle atop her head, a catfight of mismatched contestants. "A whim?" Joumana shakes her head. "A whim?" Marie-Thérèse asks. "A whim." Fatima smiles. "A whim." Aayliyo insist. Like her first whim. To translate the 36 books. Each whim, would bring big changes in her life. A renaissance. Coffee, an ambrosia, the flavor of heaven, was just the overture. The grand finale would be the translation of her favorite book. One of the witches already got to learn who the character was in the book, with whom Aayilo fell in love with and why Noah was persona non grata in her book of truths... With a exuberant cadence, the author spun this tale with prose destined for kings. Bibliophiles revels in the music of his words. He, like our protagonist, Aaliyo, presents a masterpiece like a Wagner opera; The narrative sets up, the tension builds, the music ebbs and flows, the strings, the horns, more tension, and suddenly a moment of pure pleasure. Gabriel blows his golden trumpet, ambrosial fragrance fills the air sublime, and gods descend from Olympus to dance—most heavenly this peak of ecstasy. This book celebrates the eloquence of words, literature, authors, art and the life of the Beiruti, Aaliya Sohbi. Let me conclude my screed with this comment: A magnificent read! Brilliant! One of my all time favorite reads ever. RECOMMENDED!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    I was in Haifa, Israel, seeing Jordan in the not-so-far distance, and finished this book that insinuated what happened to the soul of a young, sweet refugee Palestinian boy who simply wanted to read at the bookstore into what he'd likely become under the constant war in Lebanon. His village, "west of Haifa", was destroyed by the crazed and crazy state of Israel. I came to Haifa to see the Baha'i Gardens, decades after that religious group gave me a public award for anti-racism work in New Hampsh I was in Haifa, Israel, seeing Jordan in the not-so-far distance, and finished this book that insinuated what happened to the soul of a young, sweet refugee Palestinian boy who simply wanted to read at the bookstore into what he'd likely become under the constant war in Lebanon. His village, "west of Haifa", was destroyed by the crazed and crazy state of Israel. I came to Haifa to see the Baha'i Gardens, decades after that religious group gave me a public award for anti-racism work in New Hampshire schools (mostly White, but a major tenet of Baha'i is the "oneness of humankind", so a good number of the few African Americans in the state follow the faith with the anti-racism focus). Embarrassingly, I hadn't even heard of the Bahai's when they gave me an award, but later became friends with a couple of them and when I set out for 10 days in Palestine-Israel recently I fit two days in Haifa at the end of my trip, not knowing the solace the exquisite gardens give and how I needed it after seeing with upclose intimacy the horrific, truly unbelievalby dire plight of the Palestinians in the West Bank and elsewhere in what was their land. This novel made me grateful I'd started reading novels again, after decades of literary neglect for the banality of the social sciences and the titilation of political media. I loved how this younger man understood this older woman, and how he knew she had her own loves: she loves things big and small, unusual and ridiculous, the best writers, the best poets, the best classical music, and she made her life the deep study of these things as if she had no choice but to do so. Aalyiya had only her Hannah, really, the only one she loved (and perhaps more than platonic or familial, as was their bond) and I did wonder if it could have been romantic or sexual, at least, in another time and place. (Aalyiya did admit she fell in love with Anna not the male characters who others had swooned for in Anna Karinina!) Sexuality is something Aalyiya was unable to develop in her life, although surely that is common among conservative Muslim culture in her generation and still today. Aalyiya is socially damaged - she knows she is, but also must know it's of no fault of her own but rather that of the perpetually war-torn state of Beirut and her own, painful family dynamics. I notice a number of reviews note she was alone but not lonely, but she did tell us she was lonely (or at least the author used that word) and she obviously was. Still, her life is a study in how committing to a quality task does get one through a life, no matter how alienated elsewise. There was a pathetic quality to how she lived vacariously through overhearing the conversations of her neighbors over decades of sitting inside her house listening to three women who met outside to chat every morning. How these neighbors came to her aid after a tragedy risked all her work showed both an optimism and hope of human nature and for the future, as well as giving us a lesson in what doesn't matter in the end, anyway. We end with hope for Aalyiya, and remember that all things change even for us mere "specks". Alameddine's work could be included in literature on war, as the insights are many throughout. The symmetry of the sentences, the quality and unusual wording of the descriptions, all delightful. I smiled many times as the humor continued to surprise me, often with its ironic bite.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I read another review here on Goodreads, and the reviewer stated that he loved Aaliyah. I can do him one better than that: I actually AM Aailyah. She is a 72 year old, divorced, childless, Beiruti woman, living alone in a decaying apartment, practically abandoned by her mother and half-brothers. I am a little younger, American, married, have a grown daughter, a job, and a fairly active life with friends and family. Outwardly different, but inside my head, just like Aaliya. Exactly the same. Aaliya I read another review here on Goodreads, and the reviewer stated that he loved Aaliyah. I can do him one better than that: I actually AM Aailyah. She is a 72 year old, divorced, childless, Beiruti woman, living alone in a decaying apartment, practically abandoned by her mother and half-brothers. I am a little younger, American, married, have a grown daughter, a job, and a fairly active life with friends and family. Outwardly different, but inside my head, just like Aaliya. Exactly the same. Aaliya worked at a bookstore before she retired, and justified the books she stole, because, well, someone had to read them, didn't they? For 50 years she has also translated her favorites into Arabic from French and English, and carefully hidden them away. Reading has kept her sane. Fictional characters and her favorite authors have been her constant companions. "I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books." Most of this novel takes place inside Aaliyah's mind, which is a lovely, informative place to be if you also love books and music. But toward the end of the novel, the outside world quite literally comes flooding in, and Aaliyah must accept help from her 3 women neighbors, the weird sisters, as she thinks of them. I loved them too, for the way they helped her, and the things we come to know about them. Sometimes we need real people instead of invented ones. I know a lot of people, male and female, many of them Goodreads friends, who are also Aaliyah. If you find yourself smiling and nodding when you read the quote above, then you are Aaliyah too. Exactly the same.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I found myself completely engrossed in this strange and quietly melancholic tale of elderly Aaliya and her musings. At once a love letter to her beloved city of Beirut, a celebration of literature, and a meditative look back on her life, this story captivated and moved me. Although Aaliya’s life was relatively uneventful (even through war times, arranged marriage and her AK-47), it was more interesting than I thought it would be. Maybe that’s the point. Most of us will not have a life filled wit I found myself completely engrossed in this strange and quietly melancholic tale of elderly Aaliya and her musings. At once a love letter to her beloved city of Beirut, a celebration of literature, and a meditative look back on her life, this story captivated and moved me. Although Aaliya’s life was relatively uneventful (even through war times, arranged marriage and her AK-47), it was more interesting than I thought it would be. Maybe that’s the point. Most of us will not have a life filled with catastrophe and earth shattering tragedy. Most of us will lead quiet lives, simple lives. Many of us here are probably already halfway on the path to becoming Aaliya; burrowed away in our rooms filled with books, sleeping in our armchair and relating to the world through prose. Many of us, like her, probably walk the streets and gaze out windows and then pick up our book again and keep reading. As Aaliya wandered the drizzly streets of Beirut, as she looked back on the civil war and of those who have long ago left her life, I felt something stirring inside me. To love your home and your city, and to leave it, or in this case – to have your city crumble and leave you – is something deeply felt. Alameddine has created homage to Beirut and indeed to all cities ravaged by war and engulfed by apathy and modernization. Themes abound throughout the story, many of which hit close to home. I’m not a recluse and I’m not in my seventies and (most days) I’m not in the midst of an existential crisis (anymore), but, I uncomfortably related to this character. The role of a childless woman in society. Godlessness. Introversion. Misanthropy. Mother issues…oh, the mother issues. I especially enjoyed the (view spoiler)[lesbian subtext between Aaliya and Hannah. (hide spoiler)] Above all, this book will speak to bibliophiles. Alameddine’s writing was lyrical, compassionate, piercing, and utterly delightful.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Just before I began this book I learned that Rabih is a man’s name, a Middle-Eastern man’s name. It means, alternatively, “spring,” or “winner.” I wondered what kind of Middle Eastern man felt he could write a book about the internal life of an aging widow. And now I know. It would be a man who reads. This is a book about loneliness and connection. Aaliya, a name meaning “the exalted one,” is a translator. That is, she spends her time translating into Arabic books written in English or French. So Just before I began this book I learned that Rabih is a man’s name, a Middle-Eastern man’s name. It means, alternatively, “spring,” or “winner.” I wondered what kind of Middle Eastern man felt he could write a book about the internal life of an aging widow. And now I know. It would be a man who reads. This is a book about loneliness and connection. Aaliya, a name meaning “the exalted one,” is a translator. That is, she spends her time translating into Arabic books written in English or French. Some of the books she translates are translations of translations. Her entire life since her early divorce from an impotent husband has been consumed with this endeavor, one book a year, sharing the work of literature’s greats. She stacks her translations in cartons in the reading room of her apartment in Beirut, unpublished. She is seventy-two years old. Not long into listening to the voice from the head of this old woman I began to feel this was the indispensable book: a book I needed to read again and again, to study, to enjoy as refreshment, as instruction, as revelation, sentences changing shade and emphasis depending on the angle of the sun, on the time of year, on the colors in the room in which I sat. Too many sentences needed remarking upon, too many references needed thorough investigation to let it go with only one reading. This was the woman, who by dint of translating the “greats,” had honed her instinct for the critical moment, the real thing, the human condition. This book about a desperate woman living alone, growing old and infirm in a city riven by dissention and war, is ultimately redemptive, optimistic. It feels like a blessing, a balm. It feels like the sun on a cool day, or a cool breeze when the temperature rockets. It is literature. ”There are two types of people in this world: people who want to be desired, and people who want to be desired so much that they pretend they don’t.” I want to read everything by Rabih Alameddine. Rabih Alameddine is interviewed by Dwyer Murphy in Guernica.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eve

    "Hope is forgivable when you're young, isn't it? With no suspicion of irony, without a soupçon of cynicism, hope lures with its siren song." After finishing this voluptuous novel, I am seriously at a loss for words. I'm not a real fan of books about protagonist musings that lead nowhere, but this novel was delightful. Aaliya is a single Beiruti woman in her 70s, living alone in a tiny apartment surrounded by the books she loves. Wary of people in general, she passes the years working on "projec "Hope is forgivable when you're young, isn't it? With no suspicion of irony, without a soupçon of cynicism, hope lures with its siren song." After finishing this voluptuous novel, I am seriously at a loss for words. I'm not a real fan of books about protagonist musings that lead nowhere, but this novel was delightful. Aaliya is a single Beiruti woman in her 70s, living alone in a tiny apartment surrounded by the books she loves. Wary of people in general, she passes the years working on "projects"--translating favorite works of literature into Arabic, and carefully conserving them for her eyes alone. Along the way, she relates intimate details about her childhood, neighbors, friendships...all amid Lebanon's tumultuous war history. Her insight and parallels to works of fiction, both classical and modern, gave me goosebumps. This really is a "love letter to literature." After finishing this novel, I was looking for other works by the same author assuming Alameddine was a woman. WRONG! He's a man! It's amazing how well he wrote Aaliya's character. It's hard not to relate to and love her, quirks and all. It was shocking to find out how well he understood how women think, a bit reminiscent of Ian McEwan's writing. I am already looking forward to reading The Hakawati. I'm sure its prose will be equally beautiful.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    The puttering, nervous recluse and his book is a familiar stereotype in the reading life of any bibliophile. Or any moviegoer with a taste for fantastic, cloak-and-dagger or the sort of conspiracy with historical clues and the need for specialists. However, instead of using the stereotype as a stepping stone for a hero or an affirmation of a set of lifestyle choices that is, by the medium of its delivery, guaranteed to find a sympathetic audience, Alameddine chooses to use the slightly odd life The puttering, nervous recluse and his book is a familiar stereotype in the reading life of any bibliophile. Or any moviegoer with a taste for fantastic, cloak-and-dagger or the sort of conspiracy with historical clues and the need for specialists. However, instead of using the stereotype as a stepping stone for a hero or an affirmation of a set of lifestyle choices that is, by the medium of its delivery, guaranteed to find a sympathetic audience, Alameddine chooses to use the slightly odd life of the bibliophile in a different way. Instead of a man, we find a woman. Instead of a young girl whose beauty of mind is waiting to be discovered by the Edmunds of the world, we encounter a very old woman who has already lived her life. There seems to be little possibility of outward change for her. The idea of valor, as another misplaced fictional lady said, has gone beyond all recall or desire. We're not even dealing with an emotional last few days, where all is forgiven or excused because of the clear approach of death. It's an interesting choice where it's very late in the game, time enough for something to happen- not enough for a third act, but enough for a coda perhaps. A very small one. We're invited to consider whether or not that matters. What I find interesting is the way in which Alameddine elucidates how books slowly embedded themselves in Aailya's life, like any other obsession. Alameddine shows the organic process and its result, and the symbiotic relationship between events in her life and her deeper dive into a literary life, until nothing is left. She comes to books, as so many others do, by a combination of cruel necessity and serendipity. But a lot of people do this and leave. She remains constant for over fifty years in her obsession, each page a demonstration as to why. Aailya's life outside her books is a parade of apparent failures, her marriage, her family, her loss of any isolated professional success she might have had, her defensive posture towards nearly all friends and acquaintances, her experience of war, conflict and violence. Each event worth mentioning is demonstrated to be a new violation, a new way to cut her down to size through fear, intimidation, isolation or coercion. Even the love or "love" she is freely given is wrapped up in carefully preserved delusion. I appreciated that Alameddine focused on how much the unavoidable circumstances of her being a woman in her time and place were both a huge contributing factor to why she needed the huge impregnable wall of her books as well as the precise reason why her chosen defense mechanism, however many years and hours she put in and whatever expertise she may have gained, mattered not at all. (view spoiler)[ After a soldier shits on her floor during a raid on her apartment building, she trades the dignity, the morality, the complex humanity that she has developed through twenty years as a constant reader and more to an overgrown adolescent for an AK-47 and a shower. That is the solid foundation upon which "culture" rests. (hide spoiler)] So then, the book asks, what does all this reading gain you then? How or why does it matter? Especially in the midst of a periodically war-torn metropolis with emigrants leaving by the thousands, where any sort of community that might have validated her grows smaller by the moment? In this case, Alameddine's answer seems to be that that Aaliya herself, her thoughts, her ideas, her memories and reminiscences, is the accomplishment. Becoming the sort of person who has the most beautiful, appropriate words for each circumstance, and who has no trouble slipping into the skin of the appropriate character or author whenever her life demands it, is the reward. It means that every moment of your life can be encountered with a chorus of others who are smarter than you, who offer choices to be followed, avoided, or joked about. No matter how much life sucks, at least it can suck with King Lear's attitude about that suckiness in your head. I really really thought the ending of this book was lovely though. I liked that Alameddine didn't let Aaliya's tale be that simple. I liked that the realities of the fort of books that bibliophiles hide behind were discussed, as well as the fort's ultimate illusory qualities. There's a reality to it- and too often we bibliophiles forget the negative sides of this reality. The sort of people and things you want to shut out with your books are going to happen to you anyway. They'll break right through the walls with no problem, because they won't have the slightest conception that they are there. But the people who know that the walls are there, who are the only people perceptive, kind and interesting enough to care deeply about anyway, are the sort of people that you'll shut out. That's the unfortunate way that it can manifest in reality if you're not very, very careful. I like that there's a balanced conclusion. That Alameddine allows Aaliya's obsession to be beautiful, to be interesting and sympathetic and fragile while also pointing out its ineffectiveness, uselessness in a variety of circumstances, its loneliness and the regrets associated with it. I like that Aaliya is allowed to be the way she is as much because she's a woman as because she is a bookworm, and that Alameddine refuses to draw any conclusions about which part of her is the reason that this or that particular quality about her exists. I like the choice to use a first person persona, which allowed Aaliya her own agency to apparently shape the narrative and offer her own perspective and commentary on her own actions. I don't think this story would have been near as worth reading had it taken place entirely in a third person perspective. Occasionally, I will admit that the prose in this could be a trifle precious, that, overall, as short as this was, it might have been shorter and just as affecting. And, overall, I like that it challenges us bibliophiles once again to reaffirm the reasons why we spend hours and weeks and years with our noses buried in books, waking up to discover our faces are the faces of old ladies, seemingly overnight. Why do we spend what precious time we have on this pursuit? It's a question worth asking for most of the people who are likely to read this. Aaliya illustrated a few powerful reasons for me. I'm curious what she illustrated for anyone else.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    I stared reading this in e-book format a while back and just wasn't in the mood for an introspective novel. Plus there are just some novels I need to read in actual book form and though I set it aside I knew this was a book that I would probably love at some point or another. So it proved. This is a very introspective novel, a 72 yr old woman, although once married long ago she has been divorced for a very long time. Her world is books, poetry and music, she loves her solitude and her city, Beru I stared reading this in e-book format a while back and just wasn't in the mood for an introspective novel. Plus there are just some novels I need to read in actual book form and though I set it aside I knew this was a book that I would probably love at some point or another. So it proved. This is a very introspective novel, a 72 yr old woman, although once married long ago she has been divorced for a very long time. Her world is books, poetry and music, she loves her solitude and her city, Beruit. She has seen the best and the worst of this city, the civil war, shops closing and friends leaving. Her main occupation is translating a new novel once a year. This is a book lovers novel, she thinks of things in literary terms, quotations and bits of poetry. Her musing are sprinkled through with all these bits and pieces of novels, authors and poets. She loves Seybold and Pessoa, Faulkner is a favorite of hers and so many authors are mentioned that I was gradually adding to my already huge to read list. But I loved this book, loved her character and the other three woman in the complex that she calls the three witches. A tiny sliver of a woman and a city changing fortunes. At the end of ones life what will be your biggest accomplishment? This is another thought with which she continuously wrestles. The biggest shocker in this wonderful, quiet novel is that the author is male.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    --An Unnecessary Woman Acknowledgments

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mona

    Lovely, Introspective, Character Driven Novel This novel won't be for everyone. If you like lots of action, a fast moving story, chase scenes, violence, sex scenes, etc., this won't be your book (although there is one sex scene in it :) ) If, on the other hand, you have a tolerance for slower moving stories in which many things do happen, but more slowly; and you like books that delve deeply in the the interior state of a single character, you'll love this. The book really consists of a monologue Lovely, Introspective, Character Driven Novel This novel won't be for everyone. If you like lots of action, a fast moving story, chase scenes, violence, sex scenes, etc., this won't be your book (although there is one sex scene in it :) ) If, on the other hand, you have a tolerance for slower moving stories in which many things do happen, but more slowly; and you like books that delve deeply in the the interior state of a single character, you'll love this. The book really consists of a monologue by the main character and narrator, Aaliya Saleh. Aaliya is an elderly recluse who lives in war-torn Beirut. She loves Beirut, and refuses to leave. She is fatherless, childless, divorced, penniless, and single. She lives alone in a large apartment. Hence, by social standards, she is "unnecessary". Since our world values women chiefly for their youth, beauty, fertility, and motherhood, and Aaliya has none of these, she is "unnecessary" by society's standards (and not just Lebanese society; this is true in any culture). To make matters worse, she is an auto-didact, an intellectual, a cultured woman, and a nonconforming free spirit. Her observations about neighbors, relatives, etc. are scathingly funny. She has three female neighbors she refers to as "The Three Witches", referencing Macbeth of course. She's also not particularly religious, although she lives in a Muslim country. Now retired, she worked at a bookstore for many years before it closed because the conflicts in Beirut made it too dangerous (and unprofitable) to keep it open. This self-effacing woman, who considers herself a "nothing" (and by society's standards, she is), has read so many writers and books, I found myself adding many books to my to-reads list based on writers she has read. I didn't always agree with her---she loves Madame Bovary , a novel I couldn't stomach. But the few writers I knew that she recommended ( most I hadn't read) I agreed with. For example, she loves Junot Díaz. I do too. For fifty years, Aaliya has engaged in a secret pasttime. It is this: every year she translates a book by a major writer into Arabic, using existing English and French translations as an intermediate step. When the translation is done, she places it in a crate. She has never attempted to publish any of her translations or shown any of them to anyone. Aaliya has rules for writers she will translate. First, she always begins a new translation on January 1. Second, she will not translate any writers whose original work is in English or French. Third, she only translates works she considers to be of the highest quality. Examples of novels she has translated into Arabic include Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald and Anna Karenina. She has translated writers from around the world into Arabic. Aaliya loves many Jewish writers (she says she is partial to Jewish writers), although she is not fond of Israel or of Netanyahu. She likes philosophers. Walter Benjamin is a particular favorite. She lights candles for him. She adores Baruch Spinoza. Aaliya has lost her one close friend, Hannah, who died some years ago. In the narrative she says to the reader something like (not an exact quote) "you are me." And yes, I have to say that although our backgrounds are different, I identified with her a lot. Although I am an American Jew and she is Lebanese, I felt we had many things in common. Her feeling that older, single, childless women are invisible is not so off the mark. I, too, am an older single woman with no children and trust me, society does treat us as if we don't exist. I, too, have become more reclusive as I've gotten older. I haven't written fifty translations as she has, but like her, I am also an intellectual and an avid reader. Like her, I've had major issues with family members . I don't live in a war torn city, but sometimes New York can be so hostile that it almost feels like a war zone. This feeling of kinship with someone who lives on the other side of the world reinforced the idea that we are all human beings, no matter where we live or what our backgrounds. I listened to the audio, and Suzanne Toren did a fantastic job of reading it. She clearly knows the region, because to my ear (and I could be wrong), she got the accents and the pronunciation of names and Arabic words right. I usually include images in my reviews, but I just couldn't find one that was suitable for this review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    A generous three stars. The author may one day write a wonderful novel -- there were a handful of perfectly phrased, insightful passages -- but I too often disbelieved this one's artifice, its artful artlessness. I didn't trust it -- the author clearly animated the voice and its perception. Too many similes in the language, everything overimbued (ie, sentences suffered from Clever Analogy Overload Disorder). Intertexual intrusion to the freaking max, always arriving right on schedule, always bre A generous three stars. The author may one day write a wonderful novel -- there were a handful of perfectly phrased, insightful passages -- but I too often disbelieved this one's artifice, its artful artlessness. I didn't trust it -- the author clearly animated the voice and its perception. Too many similes in the language, everything overimbued (ie, sentences suffered from Clever Analogy Overload Disorder). Intertexual intrusion to the freaking max, always arriving right on schedule, always breaking the dream to offer another impressive literary anecdote (the title refers to Bruno Schulz's murder) or quotation from obvious Euro Lit All-Stars. Oh boy another reference to Sebald, Bernhard, Schulz, Marias, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Pessoa, Kis -- on and on, all your high-lit favorites from New Directions and the like. What's the narrator about to translate now? 2666, of course! It maybe signals the end of my interest in that sort of highly referential/intertextual literary playfulness I've enjoyed in Markson and Vila-Matas. But I'd prefer to read Sebald or Bernhard than snippets of either of them interspersed in a novel with insufficient anything else. Despite the Beirut setting and the history of brutality, the descriptions and location feel tacked on -- even if there's the occasional evocative paragraph. The characters speak the same and seemed insufficiently differentiated (ie, suffered from Disembodied Proper Noun Syndrome). Couldn't sense them. The present day story was tepid, without much of anything propelling the streaming quotations and memories (Proustian memories, of course!). Even the narrator's best friend's demise long ago hardly moved me -- nothing moved me, not even the narrator's literary fundamentalism -- it came off as a hokey device, particularly the parts at the end that seemed engineered for poignancy's sake. But again there were fantastic passages throughout, so I kept reading, hoping it'd catch fire and improve. But it became a baggy slog for me. Also, no more Bruno Schulz in fiction, OK? Schulz came to me in a dream and told me to ask all writers to let him rest in peace for at least fifty years. "It's getting sort of ridiculous," he said. "Leave me out of your precious literary novels!" What else? At times it was like The Elegance of the Hedgehog in Lebanon without the girl or Japanese guy or humor and warmth. In the end, I didn't really care for or even like the narrator. Anyway, again, a disappointment for me, in part thanks to flashes of brilliance. I think this writer might thrive if he writes something without so much artifice -- a literary autobiography, a memoir. Ultimately, the fictional veil he layered over his insight and experience irritated me. I never believed it and, throughout, I sensed that the writer would do better if he let it fall away and wrote something really for real.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    I am drawn to portraits of women on the so-called margins, Toibin's Brooklyn and other of his works come to mind, as well as Messud's The Woman Upstairs, whose main character thinks in literary references, as does Aaliya in this novel, not to show off, there is no one to show off to, but because literature is what she lives, breathes and even prays to, calling on writers, such as "O Coetzee" and "O Flaubert," to help her in her time of need. Aaliya is as prickly as Strout's Olive Kitteridge. She I am drawn to portraits of women on the so-called margins, Toibin's Brooklyn and other of his works come to mind, as well as Messud's The Woman Upstairs, whose main character thinks in literary references, as does Aaliya in this novel, not to show off, there is no one to show off to, but because literature is what she lives, breathes and even prays to, calling on writers, such as "O Coetzee" and "O Flaubert," to help her in her time of need. Aaliya is as prickly as Strout's Olive Kitteridge. She walks the streets of Beirut, reminiscent of James Joyce's famed wanderer, and disparages the fallout of his epiphanies in Dubliners on modern-day fiction. But, epiphany or not, O William Maxwell, I loved the ending of this book and as I've said of other novels, an ending such as this one can make a novel for me. Even if you don't take on translations, as Aaliya does for herself, you are a reader, so you understand her anticipation each time she weighs the merits of opening one book over another.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephen P

    When I read the blurb I blushed. I know writers lead busy lives. So, when one takes time out to write a book specifically for me my humility flows in torrents. In this case a study of the internal life of a character (A 72 year old woman in Beirut) who lives in solitude in her apartment where she has lived for years. It is stacked full of books. What more do I need? Two and a half morsels of food and three drips of water a day. The cover is a bright red and it quickly became my red book waiting f When I read the blurb I blushed. I know writers lead busy lives. So, when one takes time out to write a book specifically for me my humility flows in torrents. In this case a study of the internal life of a character (A 72 year old woman in Beirut) who lives in solitude in her apartment where she has lived for years. It is stacked full of books. What more do I need? Two and a half morsels of food and three drips of water a day. The cover is a bright red and it quickly became my red book waiting for me to continue on. Despite being a male author writing nearly three hundred pages from within the mind of a hermetic 72 year old woman, the voice, thoughts, resonated. Though cranky at times from the chronic pains of the elderly, this is the voice of a fascinating mind who has shed the strong cultural obligations of women, family, friends but one, so as not to have her life limited by the world outside of her mind, books. There are many references to books, writers, running through her mind therefore ours. Following an early marriage and divorce her work life has been running a bookstore. She makes little money. She is poor and her apartment is poor. Her life is well scheduled and daily rituals of her own making are followed. This opens time for a new book project to begin each month, each year. As a translator she keeps busy, daily. Choosing famous novels from famous authors that have been translated from their native language to French and or English, she translates to Arabic. She is translating a translation. Upon completion she is another step removed from the original. At times a large step. The manuscript is boxed, labeled, and stacked in a room with the others accumulated over the years. Never having sought publication she has never been published. All in vain? Futile? Has the process over the years provided meaning and nothing more need be added? I don't ,return, to the book. It is a part of my daily life with other activities shed like dying skin. She, the author through her, is articulate, creating vital imagery and a style that flows as both intelligent and easy to read. Enjoyment replaces the three drips of water and I lick my lips opening the book or it has opened itself waiting for me. This is especially surprising to me since there is basically only the protagonist to carry the book through its journey. She is written by a male author. Immediately I assume he is one step removed no matter his societal, cultural, history. It has not often been successfully completed. A literary novel has many thoughts, gestures, nuances to travel. As a reader of one so do I. But I'm still reading with red book enjoyment. There is an after glow coefficient registered by NASA for when a book's voice begins its readerly descendency, and the actual registration of said descendency by the smiling reader. Mine was apparently a little slow to begin with having to do with something about uptake and speed. At somewhere around the halfway point in its orbit her voice flattened out. She became more of a genderless vehicle for the author to express many points about literature, politics and philosophy. He is intelligent. I am skimming parts now. I do this on the sly so no one will know. My only hope is that NASA is not still running it graphic analysis. What did I expect? This is a book about boundaries and a finely wrought manual on how to seal them off. Almost all of it takes place within her mind. How can the canary fly back out of the mine singing happily each time? The mind must have changes, development. The interest sought in it movements in authentic directions must not be stymied. His imagery was bound to move from the flow of the narrative to, stuck- in- and- onto; the shifts of time back and forth-so especially effective when showing her as a young woman then the seamless return to her crumpling body in the shoddy apartment-now seem staged as an early strategy that has to be squeezed in before the allotted pages run out. The voice is mechanical. It no longer resonates. I hear the canaries down the mineshaft screeching for their colorful team of canary attorneys. He'll come back though, I told myself. I tapped the book cover. Shook it out a couple of times. I was too hungry to offer it any of my two and half morsels of food. Neither he nor the canary came back. The voice, the book, lay dead in my hands. The red continued it blaze. GR Friend Garima had doubts about the voice much earlier, in another thread. She was right. My limited understanding is that it is not possible to channel authentically a male author creating, allowing that female character to develop, express herself, and participate in a world of her own making. It may be easier the other way around. My gender in general is not as complex, aesthetically sensitive or as bright. I think the writer did an excellent job in the beginning of utilizing along with his own strengths, his exposure to a variety of cultural, familial, historic, forms of art. He was able to synchronize into a concept of aging femaleness. The concept initially flew fairly close to the real being. However, as cleverly disguised as it was, it was still a comceptual attachment. An attachment which needed to be carried. Somewhere along the journey the attachment grows heavy. Dropping off it is not even noticed. The character gradually morphs into a vehicle for the author's brilliant mind, along with rushed clusters of images and events. Okay, now it is time for the nice me to leave. Bye nice me. This is a book following on the heels of his bestseller. It is possible he and or his publishing house allowed the text to delve into literary style at the beginning but at around the middle point said it's time now to get this shuffle of papers into bestselling shape. There were many opportunities for literary explorations and discoveries. They sat by the dry side of the road begging as they were passed by. Today, the next day, the red book lies thin in my gut. An enjoyable, even fun at times, lightweight parcel. Unless I am looking for the density, style, form and wonder of discovering a literary achievement, I can enjoy books that miss this target especially if about a solitary character who loves to read. I wish I wasn't teased at the beginning which led to disappointment. Better to keep it one way or the other.

  24. 5 out of 5

    João Carlos

    Aaliya Salech tem um ritual. ”Desde os meus vinte e dois anos, ou seja, desde que sou adulta, começo sempre uma tradução no dia 1 de janeiro. Tenho noção de que é feriado e de que a maior parte das pessoas prefere celebrar a trabalhar no dia de Ano Novo. (…) Ao longo destes últimos cinquenta anos, traduzi quase quarenta livros: trinta e sete, se não estou em erro. Algumas obras levaram mais de um ano, outras recusaram-se a ser traduzidas, e uma ou duas mataram-me de tédio… não as obras em si, ma Aaliya Salech tem um ritual. ”Desde os meus vinte e dois anos, ou seja, desde que sou adulta, começo sempre uma tradução no dia 1 de janeiro. Tenho noção de que é feriado e de que a maior parte das pessoas prefere celebrar a trabalhar no dia de Ano Novo. (…) Ao longo destes últimos cinquenta anos, traduzi quase quarenta livros: trinta e sete, se não estou em erro. Algumas obras levaram mais de um ano, outras recusaram-se a ser traduzidas, e uma ou duas mataram-me de tédio… não as obras em si, mas a minha tradução.” (Pág. 12) - facilmente depreendemos que a narradora de ”Uma Mulher Desnecessária” é tradutora. Sabemos também que ”Há muito que me entreguei a uma paixão cega pela palavra escrita.” (Pág. 12); e que ”A literatura dá-me a vida e a vida mata-me.” (Pág. 12) – resumindo: ”Sim, sou um nadinha obsessiva. Para uma mulher não religiosa, é esta a minha fé.” (Pág. 13) Uma mulher que não tem telemóvel; ”Mas também não preciso, muito menos de um destes inteligentes, ninguém me liga. Por favor, nada de pena ou falsa compaixão! (…) Estou sozinha. Foi uma escolha que fiz, (…) Ainda assim, fiz a cama em que me deitei. Uma cama simples, confortável e adequada, devo acrescentar.” (Pág. 14) Aaliya Salech ”Uma Mulher Desnecessária” (2013), um «apêndice desnecessário», tem setenta e dois anos de idade, divorciada, sem filhos, trabalhou cerca de cinquenta anos numa livraria, vive sozinha numa apartamento em Beirute, Líbano, e ocupa o seu tempo traduzindo obras literárias em inglês e em francês para árabe. Há neste romance uma consciência inolvidável sobre o envelhecimento e sobre o carácter opressivo das memórias. Nesse contexto, Aaliya Salech mantém como companhia os seus escritores – vivos e mortos – pois é com eles que compartilha os seus pensamentos, as suas reflexões, a sua perspectiva de vida, evidenciada numa inquestionável sabedoria e sagacidade, apesar da solidão e do sofrimento. Aaliya Salech é uma mulher inesquecível, nem sempre confiável, mesmo que a sua sinceridade e a sua vulnerabilidade indiquem uma fiabilidade indiscutível; apresenta uma inteligência mordaz e uma resiliência inegável, mantendo a coragem necessária para se preservar lúcida, bem-humorada e profundamente crítica. Em ”Uma Mulher Desnecessária” seria inconcebível não destacar duas sequências: a primeira, em que Aaliya pretende comprar uma AK-47, para se defender contra intrusos, ao jovem Ahmad; e a segunda, quando reencontra a sua mãe, que vive num mundo nebuloso. Rabih Alameddine (n. 1959) escreve um memorável romance que perdurará na minha lista de leituras como um dos livros mais profundamente literários – são incontáveis, seguramente, mais de cem referências a escritores e a obras literárias; assim como, filósofos, cineastas, compositores e pintores. Um destaque especial para Fernando Pessoa e para o ”Livro do Desassossego”. ”Uma Mulher Desnecessária” apresenta algumas sequências que são genuinamente dramáticas, outras são ricas em metáforas, originais e peculiares, muitas delas completamente absurdas, mas que se encaixam perfeitamente na narrativa. Rabih Alameddine enquadra extraordinariamente a vida em Beirute, a capital do Líbano, num período de destruição em tempo de guerra. A tradução é da escritora e tradutora Tânia Ganho - impossível não assinalar a excelência do seu trabalho, são cento e cinco notas de rodapé, imprescindíveis e primordiais para o entendimento de um romance de leitura obrigatória. "Ao longo do nosso casamento, passámos semanas sem trocar mais do que frases de circunstância, pouco mais partilhando do que o sossego confuso. E acham que agora é que me sinto sozinha? Credo. Quem me dera ter dado ouvidos a Tchékhov, ou já o ter lido por essa altura: «Se tens medo da solidão, não te cases.» (.) Nas palavras concisas de Madame du Deffand (...): «Não amar o marido é uma desgraça bastante generalizada.»" (Pág. 185) "A maior parte dos livros publicados hoje em dia consiste numa série de lamúrias seguidas de uma epifania. Chamo a estas memórias e romances confessionais umas tragédias felizes. No fim, superaremos tudo e essa coisa toda. Acho-os lamechas e entediantes." (Pág. 135) "Volto para o quarto, para a pilha de livros em cima da cómoda sem espelho, livros que ainda não li e tenciono ler, uma grande pilha. Escolher um não é difícil. Regra geral, opto pelo último que trouxe para casa. Estou constantemente a adquirir livros e a colocá-los na pilha para ler. Quando acabo um, começo o último que comprei, o último que me chamou a atenção. Claro está que a pilha vai crescendo e crescendo até eu decidir que não volto a comprar nem mais um antes de ler todos os que estão na pilha. Às vezes, funciona." (Pág. 108)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    The first thing that strikes a reader of this book is the vibrancy of the speaker’s voice. Here are the first two paragraphs: You could say I was thinking of other things when I shampooed my hair blue, and two glasses of red wine didn’t help my concentration. Let me explain. I just couldn’t help being drawn in by this first person narrator Aaliya, a seventy-two year old woman living alone in Beruit. She’s deemed unnecessary because (as the bookflap tells us) she is “Godless, fatherless, childless, The first thing that strikes a reader of this book is the vibrancy of the speaker’s voice. Here are the first two paragraphs: You could say I was thinking of other things when I shampooed my hair blue, and two glasses of red wine didn’t help my concentration. Let me explain. I just couldn’t help being drawn in by this first person narrator Aaliya, a seventy-two year old woman living alone in Beruit. She’s deemed unnecessary because (as the bookflap tells us) she is “Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced.” While her society and family can imagine no role for her to play, other than to defer to the needs of the other men in her family and their families, she instead finds her own purpose for living: to read and learn and translate what she reads in English and French translations into Arabic. Over the last fifty years she’s translated thirty-seven works of literature into Arabic from their French and English translations. She does not publish her work; she places it in a box with the two volumes she used as source texts and stores them in her apartment. She does not share her work with anyone. When she is offered the chance to translate for money, she turns that work down. It’s not that she’s rich enough to ignore an offer of work. Her act of translation is private, almost sacred; it’s how she comes to fully own these books. And she has read widely beyond those thirty-seven works. Indeed, the entire novel is liberally sprinkled with textual references from an enormous variety of books and authors, some identified, some just quoted in passing. Among those she has translated are Sebald, Marias, Bolano, Saramago, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. And Ferdnando Pesso. Of him she writes, “As a diehard Pessoan, my deathstone should be inscribed with his words, and there I have so much—so much to choose from” (173). Page after page, Aaliya presents herself to the readers of this book as a reader and thinker with insight and a sharp sense of humor. At the same time we learn about the many wars in Lebanon and the ways that those wars crushed the people in Beruit. There are vivid landscapes of bombed out buildings described as she walks from one place to another in the city. She also recounts her personal history by recounting how she was coerced into marriage at the age of sixteen by her family, a marriage that lasted less than four years. There is no love lost for this husband who left her by saying “I divorce you? three times. Of him she writes, “The impotent insect stepped out the door, and these floors never had to feel his feet again” (13). She describes attending his funeral many years (and many wives) later, stating all the women there were laughing because “he had died with an erection that would not relent” (15). As she later remarks to us, her readers, “In death Eros had triumphed, while in life Thanatos had. My husband was a Freudian dyslexic” (15). Aaliya spends little time feeling sorry for herself. And as much as she lives inside her head, she also lives inside her family, community, and country. She is aware of the world outside herself. But language and literature is very much a mediator between Aaliya and those around her. Her best friend Hannah, who has died not that long ago, is much on her mind. But so much of what she knows of Hannah comes less from her personal contacts with Hannah over the years that with what Aaliya reads in Hannah’s journals. There are three neighbors with whom Aaliya has contact, even though she tries to avoid them. She refers to them as the three weird sisters or three witches, even though she knows all their names and converses with them regularly. All these external conversations give readers another view of Aaliya, and we can decide ourselves what to think. To say this is just right the book for those of us who spend so much of our lives inside our own minds in the company of all the words we’ve ever read by all the authors we’ve admired and loved is to understate the obvious. This truly is the perfect book for me and for many of my fellow Goodreads readers. Even though Aaliya and I live in very different worlds, while inside her mind as I read this book, I felt very much at home. 4.5/5

  26. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    I really wanted to like this book and I tried to get into it but it felt like sitting next to a great aunt at Thanksgiving who rambles on and on. By the time she says something interesting you realize that you haven't heard a word she has said for the last twenty minutes because you were mentally debating the merits of getting another piece of pie vs. fitting into pants the next day. Now she has said something fairly interesting (along the lines of "that was the year I nearly shot a man with an I really wanted to like this book and I tried to get into it but it felt like sitting next to a great aunt at Thanksgiving who rambles on and on. By the time she says something interesting you realize that you haven't heard a word she has said for the last twenty minutes because you were mentally debating the merits of getting another piece of pie vs. fitting into pants the next day. Now she has said something fairly interesting (along the lines of "that was the year I nearly shot a man with an AK-47") but you hesitate to ask for clarification because on one hand, holy cow, Aunt Betty & an AK47!?!? ...but on the other hand, you might just have another long ass story that goes nowhere.... I recommend getting up for pie instead.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    “I’m not sure that the discovery of love is necessarily more exquisite than the discovery of poetry, or more sensuous for that matter.” When little Aaliya’s mother discovered that her daughter had lost her purse, she predicted in a Delphi moment that Aaliya will never make a lady. Aaliya hadn’t lost the purse, she had exchanged it for an illustrated copy of 'A Tale of Two Cities'. A reader "I am a reader. Yes, I am a reader with nagging back pain." Being taken out of school at age of fifteen “I’m not sure that the discovery of love is necessarily more exquisite than the discovery of poetry, or more sensuous for that matter.” When little Aaliya’s mother discovered that her daughter had lost her purse, she predicted in a Delphi moment that Aaliya will never make a lady. Aaliya hadn’t lost the purse, she had exchanged it for an illustrated copy of 'A Tale of Two Cities'. A reader "I am a reader. Yes, I am a reader with nagging back pain." Being taken out of school at age of fifteen and divorced after four years, she found what should have looked like a dream job as keeper of a book shop – after two prettier women quit the job for sake of better opportunities (husbands). She worked there until she retired – often getting herself books on-the-house – without permission of the owner of the house. Now to many, it might seem as immoral, but she had a merge salary and in a way she provided meaning to the shop (opened by owner in vanity rather than for survival), for first time in recent history, books of world literature entered Beruit, and when it comes to stealing books and illegal brewing, I rather prefer the phrase ‘morally flexible’. She ended up becoming a complete book addict. A lot like someone you could expect to meet on Goodreads - I bet you will love listening to her book anecdotes ("I’ve read Waiting for Godot three times and I still can’t tell you what it is about.”), she has books lying all around in her room, has a book with her wherever she goes, can’t think or talk without quoting one author or other, makes use of a healthy amount of irony and sarcasm and knows more about book characters than real life people. The celebrities whose lives she is interested in are authors and she has a religious obsession for some authors (Fernando Pessoa) and pet peeves for others (Hemingway). A rebel May be one way of looking at her is as a rebel – an ex-Muslim atheist woman, with what are supposed to be unfeminine hair (shorter than shoulder length) living alone in Beruit and working alone in a book shop. But what was the point of rebellion? What did it gave to society? Nothing. She has no plans to improve the world around her (she can’t) and, like one of those Camus’ protagonists, she refuses to take sides in wars – equally critical of all sides. But the fact that she survived with her habbit in such hostile circumstances is rebelation enough. “'I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so fuckin' heroic.'” - George Carlin Act of self-preservation Perhaps she reads not so much to revolt but to escape, an act of self-preservation (”I’m still more or less sane because of my evening reading.”). The city of Beirut has long adopted itself to the oscillations between wars and cease-fires and deaths that war brings – thinking of them no more than one would think about a change in weather and road accidents. At times water supplies could be gone for the days and places would be invaded by bandits. In such circumstances, she finds herself an escape in books. May be the reasons why she reads so much are the very things she claims to hate in books – books provide a random world some kind of order and thus gives its readers a hope for a moment of epiphany. What she said of writing can easily be said of reading: “To write is to know that you are not at home.” Reading is a solitary activity. And mind you, solitary, not lonely, rather it cures loneliness: “The cure for loneliness is solitude.” —Marianne Moore, from the essay “If I Were Sixteen Today"(one of epigraphs of novel) ... And that is true. Despite her solitary life, there is no sign of her feeling alone – she was lonelier in her married years (“I wish I’d listened to Chekhov, or had read him then: “If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t marry.”) Side-effects Is she a better person because of her reading? She is more assertive of her rights and wishes. Except for that, the impact of her reading this much is more visible in side-effects attached to the habit. We already mentioned back-pain. Spectacles? Sure. She is no longer comfortable among people, becoming useless to society. She has next to no-dressing sense. She won’t eat meat and switched to vegetarian diets to save money for books. In short she became a lot like that girl from Sarah Andersen’s cartoons. Perhaps this is the biggest problem with reading. If reading was only a desperate effort to create an illusion of something more home-like, than some people end up preferring this illusion over reality: “I loved the idea of homeland but not the actual return to one.”

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    There is so much to love in this book - beautifully written, a complex and compelling main character, a vivid exploration of a foreign culture and an homage to books and the love of reading. Aaliyah Saleh is the narrator and she is speaking to you, the reader. Aaliyah is divorced, childless and friendless and has lived on her own for many years in an apartment in Beirut. She worked in a bookstore but is now retired. Each year, she translates a major piece of literature from French or English to A There is so much to love in this book - beautifully written, a complex and compelling main character, a vivid exploration of a foreign culture and an homage to books and the love of reading. Aaliyah Saleh is the narrator and she is speaking to you, the reader. Aaliyah is divorced, childless and friendless and has lived on her own for many years in an apartment in Beirut. She worked in a bookstore but is now retired. Each year, she translates a major piece of literature from French or English to Arabic. When she finishes her task, she boxes it up, labels it, and stores it in a spare bedroom - never to be seen by other eyes. Occasionally, her mother and eldest brother visit her to berate her and try to bully her into giving her more spacious apartment to her brother. This is her life. Sound boring and depressing? That is just the bare bones, the beauty is the richness of the detail of Aaliyah's narration and the tales she spins, all revealed via her prickly and outspoken persona. This is not a book to speed-read, it's stuffed full of literary references and history. As I read it, I kicked myself over and over again for not reading it on my Kindle. I probably would have highlighted half of the book! I highly recommend this one, especially to those who love literature and rejoice in the beauty of the written word.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer (aka EM)

    A beautiful book for bibliophiles. This book is a gorgeous character study of an aging misanthrope who loves, loves, loves literature. All forms of art, really, but literature in particular. And like all misanthropes, inside she is a quivery, sad, anxious mess of longing and need for human contact. She may sublimate all she wants by translating, but the ending shows how much of a cover-up this sublimation is and - within the context of the lives lived in Beirut over the past 72 years - how much t A beautiful book for bibliophiles. This book is a gorgeous character study of an aging misanthrope who loves, loves, loves literature. All forms of art, really, but literature in particular. And like all misanthropes, inside she is a quivery, sad, anxious mess of longing and need for human contact. She may sublimate all she wants by translating, but the ending shows how much of a cover-up this sublimation is and - within the context of the lives lived in Beirut over the past 72 years - how much trauma, loss and also - of course! - how much strength and resilience she has. It's a fabulous trip for the voracious reader who will find oneself enjoying her enjoyment of the books she's read and what they have meant to her, her 'personal' relationships with the authors, and also questioning one's own relationship with the books and authors we love. With reading in general and the place it fills in our lives. The ending is absolutely amazing for showing the reader - this reader, who feels in many ways akin to Aaliya - that books are a gateway not just to humanity but to human relationships. Not a replacement for them, but a necessary, indeed essential, complement. 4.5 stars. Rounded down because it's early in the year!

  30. 5 out of 5

    jordan

    After reading Rabih Alameddine's last novel the Hakawati, I became something of an evangelist, pushing it on all my friends (who, given its length, were somewhat resistant). With "An Unnecessary Woman," the author goes in an entirely different direction. The novel's narrator is an elderly Lebanese woman living in Beirut who translates novels -- one a year -- as a hobby. In an ironic opening for this ironic novel, we find her considering the a work by Sebald, the great deceased German author to w After reading Rabih Alameddine's last novel the Hakawati, I became something of an evangelist, pushing it on all my friends (who, given its length, were somewhat resistant). With "An Unnecessary Woman," the author goes in an entirely different direction. The novel's narrator is an elderly Lebanese woman living in Beirut who translates novels -- one a year -- as a hobby. In an ironic opening for this ironic novel, we find her considering the a work by Sebald, the great deceased German author to whose style Alameddine here pays homage. As with Sebald, the reader at times may find him or herself struggling with the novel's discursive structure. The rewards, however, for this effort prove enormous. Alameddine here combines to classic genres, the novel of regret and the novel as a work of literary analysis. We see the former from the start; the narrator Aaliyah looks back on her life from old age with a mixture of amusement and regret. She's been an observer her whole life and plainly shy, she does not hesitate to unleash her withering critique of every other person and event in her life. Thus we learn about her limp former husband, her batty neighbors, etc. As one might expect, her understanding of these characters at the end of the book is not the same as it was at the beginning. As a novel of literary analysis, the novel brings to mind Coetzee's "Elizabeth Costello," though with far more fluidity as this novel's plot is more than a mere frame. In the free flow of Aaliyah's decelerations on various authors, one does smell strong perfume form Sebald, though unlike Sebald, one gets a sense that the barriers between Alameddine and his character at times grows quite thin. Still, the sheer range of authors discussed -- Sebald, of course, as well as Flaubert, Nabokov, Marquez, Coetzee, Keats, Bruno Schultz, Twain, and Kis, just to name a sample -- proves fun as do the strength of the opinions voiced. Yes, some might find these parts dragging and perhaps even pretentious, but I found them delightful, whether I agreed with Alameddine and especially when I did not. As with every novel, much of this work's success lies on the author's skills. As with his previous works, Alameddine here again does not disappoint. His style, sardonically ironic, well observed, and often biting, keeps the pages turning with aplomb. Even the shortest lines often carry a razor wit, from the philosophical like "There is none more conformist than one who flaunts his individuality" to the pedestrian, as with "The shower felt like a monsoon: hot, succulent, and baptismal." Even a simple cunning verb as with "Fadia uncorked her grief" keeps this novel humming. Were it reliant on just this author's deft prose or his thoughtful discussion of literature, this would be a book well worth reading. Combined, they alloy into a work both delightful and intellectually evocative.

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