Rabih Alameddine’s latest novel An Unnecessary Woman is a book about nothing and about everything. By which I mean to say, there’s not much to the plot but there’s so very much to the narrator, 72-year-old Aaliya Saleh, who lives alone in her Beirut apartment surrounded by her books. She used to run a bookstore and now, on the first of each year, she begins a new translation of a novel into classical Arabic, which she then packs away for posterity. She has strict rules about what she will translate because of course she has very particular reading tastes. While the world goes on around her, she insulates herself in her apartment and fends off her ex-inlaws who think they deserve the apartment. She refers to the bad times in Beirut, which she spent reading Calvino by candlelight, and the AK she bought to help protect herself. The entire novel is Aaliyah’s ruminating on her past, the country’s past, and her tentative future.
She is the singular lead character that I can recall to capture my attention for so long with just her musings. Indeed, this awesome cranky heroine grabs your attention from the beginning. Wherever Aaliya wants to lead me, I’m willing to follow. This almost perfect novel delighted me from page one all the way through the end and will be a volume I cherish for years to come.