An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine is a novel like no other I have read. The book kept calling to me from the library shelf, so I finally picked it up. Rifling through it, I saw exotic references to writers, composers, artists, and philosophers, people like W.G. Sebald, Fernando Pessoa, Javier Marias, Michel Foucault, and dozens of others. Not your everyday novel. The author appears to have read vast galaxies of books.
The story is brought to you in the first person by the unnecessary woman of the title, Aaliya, a 72-year-old solitary, long divorced, who worked all her life in a bookstore. For many of those years she also translated books into Arabic: books by Leo Tolstoy, Roberto Bolano, Italo Calvino, Knut Hamsun, Jose Saramago, and over thirty more. At the start of each year, she enjoys the quiet thrill of selecting the coming year's translation. Once the translation is finished, she boxes it up; it goes unseen and unknown by the world. Her manuscripts fill cartons and rooms.
Her highbrow literary tastes form the skeletal structure of the book. She weaves anecdotes about books and authors through her musings about her own life: her work, her habits, her "impotent insect" of an ex-husband, the manner in which she acquired her AK-47, her less than loving relationship with her mother, the suicide of her best friend.
Aaliya's colorful, acerbic, highly-opinionated narration brings Beirut, her hometown, to vivid life in all its splendor and catastrophe, for she has lived through long years of Civil War and sectarian strife (hence the bedside AK-47). Aaliya certainly knows her own mind yet she also questions a lot, she doesn't suffer fools gladly, and she definitely does not mince words.
An Unnecessary Woman is a journey through the carefully examined life of a highly intelligent and peppery woman, an outwardly unremarkable woman who has lived her whole life for the love of literature, language, music, art, and ideas. And, as a bonus, the novel ends on a genuinely uplifting note.
~Ann, Adult Services