Friday, April 3, 2015

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine


An Unnecessary Woman
by Rabih Alameddine
narrated by Suzanne Toren
Audible Studios, 2014
10 hours and 28 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family's "unnecessary appendage." Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The 37 books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read by anyone.

In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman's late-life crisis, listeners follow Aaliya's digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colorful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya's own 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.

A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the prodigiously gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East.

My thoughts:
An Unnecessary Woman took me to a place I've never been. Not even through literature have I visited Beirut (or the country of Lebanon, for that matter) and it was an eye-opening journey. Through Aaliya's slowly unfolding story, I learned of her reclusive life as an "unnecessary" woman, her inner struggles and intellectual musings, and the changes she observed in her beloved city from its Civil War to the present.

Aaliya's voice is authentic and believable, and I was well into the book before I realized Rabih Alameddine is a man. Very impressive.

Finally, I would have missed this book had it not been for a tweet directing my attention to an article highlighting indie book seller recommendations of overlooked gems. So maybe twitter isn't a total waste of time...

A note on the audio production:
Suzanne Torren was named an Audie Award finalist in the Literary Fiction category for her narration of An Unnecessary Woman. Her list of audiobook credits is long and impressive. This may be one of her best efforts.

Read or listen?
A tough call... An Unnecessary Woman  is a smart, literary novel and the audio production is outstanding. As I made my way through the book, I often had the urge to stop, reread a passage, and think for a moment. Listening made that difficult, so print may be the way to go with this book.

My rating:

20 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure I have this in print. It sounds like a story I'd like.

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  2. I just bought this one. One of my "new" ones to go on my shelf. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

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    1. Midlife Roadtripper - You deserve some new books after the TBR Dare. Hope you enjoy this one, too.

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  3. I've read quite a few good reviews of this one... I'll have to see if the library has it! I don't think my books have ever taken me to Lebanon, either.

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    1. Shaina - I think there may be a blog post in there somewhere... where we've traveled though books.

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  4. Ooh, this sounds intriguing, and I always love a good audiobook. Maybe with the print copy nearby, in this case!

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    1. Erin - Audio with a print copy handy would be perfect for this novel!

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  5. Interesting. I think I get why you say print would be better for this. There's stuff lost in translation when listening to audiobooks for me, so thanks. I love the idea behind the book too, taking us back to how it was back then.

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    1. Jillian - Exactly. I often have both audio and print... that would have been beneficial here.

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  6. This sounds wonderful, and it's good to know that even though print might be preferable, the audio version is excellent. Great to have choice!

    Happy Easter!

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    1. Audrey - I just loved the narration! Erin had the right idea ... this would have been perfect if I'd had a print copy at hand, too.

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  7. Interesting that it was awhile before you realized the author was male. I guess the book title might through you off. Glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. Pat - I'm always impressed when male authors write so believably from a female perspective... Wally Lamb and Stewart O'Nan come to mind first.

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  8. Rabih Alameddine is a man?! Wow. I've read I, the Divine: a Novel in First Chapters, also told from the POV of a woman, and I certainly didn't realize that. Amazing!

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    1. Debbie - I eventually ended up googling the author and was amazed... he got into Aaliya's head so well!

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  9. I think I would love to read this one. I have read a verse book set in Beirut but that was so long ago that it is certainly time to read more from this place!

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    1. Athira - This novel actually made me want to search for some nonfiction on the subject.

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  10. Wow you sold me on this one. It sounds heartbreaking but good too. I will put it on my list. thanks. I guess I'd rather read than listen to it.

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    1. Thecuecard - I still find myself thinking about this book, and it's been weeks since I finished! Hope you enjoy it, too.

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