An Amazon Best Book, 2014
A Kirkus Best Book, 2014
A Wall Street Journal Best Book, 2014
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.
At the end of the year, before I begin a new project, I read the translation I’ve completed. I do final corrections (minor), set the pages in order, and place them in the box. This is part of the ritual, which includes imbibing two glasses of red wine.
Aaliya lives alone with her books—books she has collected over a lifetime, books she translates into Arabic with no likelihood that they will ever be read. With her accidentally blue-dyed hair, her cantankerous dealings with her neighbours and her difficult relationship with her family, Aaliya is a character you will never forget.
An Unnecessary Woman is a sublime novel, a love letter to literature and its power to define who we are.
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Can Distance, Dislocation Aid Novelists? Read Rabih’s response at Publishing Perspectives.
An Unnecessary Woman dramatises a wonderful mind at play…filled with intelligence, sharpness and strange memories and regrets…And over all this fiercely original act of creation is the sky of Beirut throwing down a light which is both comic and tragic, alert to its own history and to its mythology, guarding over human frailty and the idea of the written word with love and wit and understanding and a rare sort of wisdom.’
‘Alameddine’s storytelling is rich with a bookish humor that’s accessible without being condescending…A gemlike and surprisingly lively study of an interior life.’
‘Studded with quotations and succinct observations, this remarkable novel by Alameddine is a paean to fiction, poetry, and female friendship. Dip into it, make a reading list from it, or simply bask in its sharp, smart prose.’
‘An Unnecessary Woman is 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 most glorious passages are those that simply relate Aalyia’s thoughts, which read like tiny, wonderful essays… In the end, Aalyia’s epiphany is joyful and freeing.’
‘Alameddine…offers winningly unrestricted access to the thoughts of his affectionate, urbane, vulnerable and fractiously opinionated heroine. Aaliya says that when she reads, she tries to “let the wall crumble just a bit, the barricade that separates me from the book.” Mr. Alameddine’s portrayal of a life devoted to the intellect is so candid and human that, for a time, readers can forget that any such barrier exists.’
‘Read it once, read it twice, read other books for a decade or so, and then pick it up and read it anew. This one’s a keeper.’
‘Aaliya’s book club would be the best.’
‘For readers familiar with the intricacies of Lebanese culture much in this novel will take on particular significance. For the rest of us, there is Alameddine’s finely wrought writing to savour. The last pages, where Aaliya’s translations fall victim to a very mundane mishap, are characteristically witty and moving.’
‘Alameddine achieves a remarkable thing: a book that appears to be unstructured and full of side paths, and yet is put together in such a way that when you reach the end, with its “epiphany” coming out of what might have been a disaster, you feel satisfied with his approach to storytelling and the shape of the book. Take it as it comes, and enjoy Alameddine’s insights into Beirut and its people, and the endearing company of one of the most original characters to turn up in recent literature.’
‘Ambitious and exhilarating…Simultaneously a philosophical rumination, a literature class and a cry from the heart, An Unnecessary Woman is, precisely in its strangeness, a genuine literary please.’
‘Irresistible and very necessary reading…This is a book, worth passing along: read it and tell a friend.’