I picked up my most recent read at a semi-local independent bookstore. I know they say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but the cover and title are what drew me in. Feeling a little unnecessary myself lately, I just had to know what this book was about. To put it much too simply, An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine is a meditation on the love of language and literature as well as what it is like to live your life by continually bucking social norms, not as a political statement, but as simply a way to live life true to yourself.
An important element to this book is its setting: Beirut, Lebanon. The protagonist, Aaliya, is above all resilient. She has to be due to the unrest she has lived through. A basic knowledge of the historical events of the area is helpful when reading through this story, but I wouldn’t say it’s critical.
Now while the world is changing around her, Aaliya lives a simple life. Alone in her apartment, she translates a book into Arabic every year. Her life is solitary and she surrounds herself with literature. Throughout her meditations on her present day life, you go through many flashbacks of how she got to be so “unnecessary” as a divorcee living apart from her family.
While this book is an enjoyable read, I couldn’t make myself care much about the characters or the plot, which I think is showing though in my brief synopsis of it. The prose, however, is beautiful. Alameddine is a master at crafting sentences, weaving together allusions to other works with his own observations, and writing deeply about loneliness, aging, politics, etc. That’s what made the book for me.
I was never completely absorbed or felt as though I couldn’t wait to get back to it after setting it down, but I by no means regret reading it. My copy will probably make it’s way to a used bookstore eventually in order to make room for something else, but I’m glad I picked it up.