Rabih Alameddine is in the running for the 2014 NBCC prize which is the first good look I took at this book, An Unnecessary Woman. I was completely drawn in by the blurb on GoodReads:
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. (GoodReads)
There are three main reasons I was drawn to read this book; I love books (‘surrounded by stockpiles of books’ – swoon), I also translate, and I was intrigued to know what made this woman an unnecessary one.
I loved this book. I’ll start by letting you know right off the bat that the plot is a literary one – it’s about a transformation and a huge part of the narrative is stream of consciousness which in the case of this novel is good because Aaliya is incredibly interesting, dynamic, cultured, and extremely well read. She is an introvert without much family and few friends which makes for a lonely life. She lives in her head, in her recollections of Beruit from the past. She lives through literature and often hides behind it. She gives meaning and routine to her life through her translations of her favourite literature and then boxes them up, out of sight, when she’s done with them. She finds much peace in her solitude but keeps people who could be a part of her life shut out. As always I can’t tell you what happens. But what I can tell you is she is worth following and she may well teach you a thing or two. This book is filled with beautifully crafted sentences and wonderful quotes from poets and authors. It is absolutely brimming with references to specific authors and their works which was wonderful, insightful, and had me reaching for a notepad often. I took my time with this book because honestly there are some gems in it. I feel quite smitten with it to be honest. I identified with her – I think Alameddine did a great job in bringing her to life.
This is a book for literature lovers, for introverts, for people who like to read about people overcoming themselves. I highly recommend this beautiful book. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was certainly mine.