Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, January 13, 2020

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine - 2014 - 298 Pages

Not long ago Amazon suggested An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine was a work I might enjoy.  Amazon has nearly 25 years of data on my purchases and browsing so I do normally look at their suggestions.  In this case, they were totally right.  The book was available in the Kindle Unlimited Program (I am on a three months trial membership for $0.99 a month) so of course I selected read now.

When I began my Blog July 9, 2009 I planned to focus on literature about people who lead Reading centered lives.  Since then I have gone down many literary rabbit holes but this concept still animates  me.  An Unnecessary Woman is a quintessential book about the reading life.

This turned out to be a perfect book for me to read at my current juncture in life.  Set in Beruit in a time of civil violence on a dangerous scale, the narrator is a 72 year old woman, Aaliya,  who truly has lived a reading life.    She sees her past through the works she has read.  She is coping with her physical decay, as am I, looking back on her life and the people she had known.

Her husband, whom  she has scant regard for, is deceased, the love of her life was another woman.  She has no children.  In her environment lesbian relationships were unacceptable to most.

The novel ranges from long interior monologues to extended descriptions of the hardships of life in Beruit.  The narrator speaks very harshly of Beruit but you can sense her deep love for the city.  

The heart of this book is in Aaliya's dialogues with her vast, and I do mean vast readings.  Her birth language is Arabic, she is fluent in French and capable in English.  She spent most of her adult life working in a modest book store.  She has translated over fifty books from French into Arabic.  Once she completes a translation, she puts it in notebook.  None of her translations are ever published.  She is currently working on Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. There are very interesting reflection on translating Sebald from the French translation to English.

"Rabih Alameddine was born in Amman, Jordan to Lebanese parents, and grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon. He was educated in England and America, and has an engineering degree from UCLA and an MBA from the University of San Francisco. He is also the author of the novel Koolaids: Or The Art of War, the story collection, The Perv, and, most recently, I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters. His pieces have appeared in Zoetrope, The Evening Standard and Al-Hayat, among others. Mr. Alameddine, a painter as well as an author, has had solo gallery exhibitions in cities throughout the United States, Europe and the Middle East. He has lectured at numerous universities including M.I.T and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. Mr. Alameddine was the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2002. He divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut." .  From Amazon


Terra said...

This book sounds fascinating to me, I can relate to the age of the woman, the book environment, and the setting of Beirut. I visited Beirut long ago when I was a college student.

shelleyrae @ book'd out said...

It sounds like an intriguing way in which to relate an autobiography. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Thanks for reviewing this book, Mel. It does sound fascinating for so many reasons, from the title onwards.