An Unnecessary Woman: Review

Alameddine introduces readers to an elderly woman named Aaliya who is divorced and lives alone in her beloved city Beirut. She translates books (usually first translated into English or French) into Arabic and stores them in a small closet, never mentioning her work to anyone.

The book follows her thoughts and what’s happening around her. Readers may be frustrated by the book because: 1. Alameddine enjoys writing the way Aaliya’s mind works which is usually very jumpy and interrupting, 2. Aaliya is very widely read in all world literature and consistently employees quotes or opinions on pieces of work or the authors.

If you as a reader are not well read in terms of world literature, this will be a difficult book for you to follow as it was for me.

The writing style is definitely different. Alameddine never once separates the book by chapters so that it is a long-flowing narrative. It’s a very interesting and intriguing choice to me and I know he does it on purpose. Perhaps to see how the flow of life is continuous and never pausing.

As frustrating as it may be to keep up with Aaliya’s wonderful but choppy mind, she’s a character that instills admiration. She breaks cultural norms and barriers, she’s an independent woman living by herself through times of war and beyond, she’s very highly educated of her own accord, and she’s very determined. Even at her lowest while the spark may dim, it’s never all lost.

For me personally this book was very hard to get through. Page 200 and beyond is written more cohesively and it’s paced better. Although I wouldn’t say I personally enjoyed or liked the book, I respect it very highly and that’s why I rate it 3.5-4/5 stars.

I can’t just give one number because Alammedine writes very thought provoking, beautiful sentences like:

“Does reliability reinforce your illusion of control? If so, I wonder if in developed countries (I won’t use the hateful term civilized), the treacherous, illusion-crushing process of aging is more difficult to bear.

He huffs and puffs, displays the anger of Achilles and the countenance of the little pig.

“The peasantry, when it wishes to escape peasantry, has always, for centuries, across all borders, escaped into a uniform.
Alain Robbe-Grillet once wrote that the worst thing to happen to the novel was the arrival of psychology. You can assume he meant that now we all expect to understand the motivation behind each character’s actions, as if that’s possible, as if life works that way.

“One reason we desire explanations is that they separate us and make us feel safe …

If you think that Marcello of The Conformist becomes a porcine fascist because he killed lizards when he was a boy, then you assure yourself that you can never be so.
Even though I may not ever read the above mentioned authors, Alammedine does well to make his point when he wants to through Aaliya, which makes the novel more bearable and readable. But he doesn’t do this every time, and therefore I feel as if I missed an entire universe-layer of the book that I have to discover first in order to get everything out of An Unnecessary Woman.
In lieu of the many thought provoking sentences, the very bold claims (such as relating Noah’s ark to nazi philosophy), I’ve rated it higher than I feel as if I enjoyed it. But that’s the old argument of art, isn’t it? Is art for the masses or is it for the very well educated? Obviously this book makes its own decision and is destined for more enjoyment by the latter.

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