Finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, Rabih Alameddine's fourth novel describes a 72-year-old Beiruti woman who considers her life through literature in an intimate and melancholy tour de force.
An Unnecessary Woman is a kind of commonplace book, stuffed with citations from Aaliya’s favorite novels and poems. Everything that happens to her provokes a literary reminiscence... Her passion for translation is the prime source of the novel’s claim on its readers’ sympathies. The loneliness of this passion — and therefore the strength of our sympathies — is heightened by the idea, which Alameddine insists on, that Aaliya is pursuing her vocation in a cultural desert ... The story is told from a single point of view and, aside from a few flashbacks, it proceeds in straightforward fashion ... Here is moral capitulation, erotic pleasure, vanity, and surprising tenderness — fiction that matches the complexity of history. All the rest is literature.
Rabih Alameddine's beautiful new novel is ostensibly about an elderly woman living alone in her Beirut apartment. Once married but quickly divorced, Aaliya appears to be, as the title says, An Unnecessary Woman ... Much of An Unnecessary Woman reads in this fashion, with Aaliya dialoguing with the lives and works of great writers while simultaneously recounting the events of her life, from girlhood to sunset years ...an allegory about how notions of beauty and civilization can endure in a world that periodically descends into barbarism and how women can persevere in a society that never ceases to devalue them in both war and peace ... an utterly unique love poem to the book and to the tenacity of the feminine spirit. And it's a triumph for Alameddine, who has created a book worthy of sitting on a shelf next to the great works whose beauty and power his novel celebrates.
Alameddine’s erudite narrator, Aaliya Saleh, enfolds her personal story within the 20th-century history of her beloved Beirut, battered by decades of war. She sings the glories of literature and scorns the stupidities of human beings. She critiques the sexism of Arab society and is no less scathing about the smug ignorance of Americans ...much of the wonderful humor in An Unnecessary Woman comes from her pithy contempt for those who fail to live up to its sacred precepts ... Her marvelous descriptions of Beirut, where a circuitous old street 'wiggles its hips quite a bit,' contain a note of wistfulness over the way she stands apart from the crowd ...her interior journey is all the plot this novel really needs. It throbs with energy because her memories are so vivid and her voice so vital ... Alameddine has given us a marvelously cranky heroine, gruffly vulnerable and engagingly self-mocking.