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Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
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Alif the Unseen (original 2012; edition 2012)

by G. Willow Wilson

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910679,662 (3.86)98
Member:beniowa
Title:Alif the Unseen
Authors:G. Willow Wilson
Info:Grove Press (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Science Fiction, Fantasy, Grove, Arabic

Work details

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (2012)

  1. 40
    Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (kaledrina)
  2. 10
    The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (mamajoan)
    mamajoan: A similar melding of very-near-future technology with ancient Middle Eastern mythology.
  3. 10
    Fool's War by Sarah Zettel (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Fool's War is also science fiction dealing with computer issues that features a protagonist who is a Muslim, though it is in a far future spacefaring setting instead of based on Earth.
  4. 00
    If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (FFortuna)
  5. 00
    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (kaledrina)
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» See also 98 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)
Sort of cyberpunk, sort of fantasy, woven throughout with Muslim folklore and culture. The protagonist has a lot of growth over the course of the story. The supporting characters are complex and vivid. ( )
  lavaturtle | Jun 19, 2016 |
Nutshell blurb: Alif is a computer geek who is given a mystical book that takes him in between two worlds. He has to fight forces seen and unseen as he tries to get his life back and get the girl.

Overall, I loved this book. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. It was enchanting and well worth blowing off studying for.

There were a few things I didn't like so I'll start with those.

"These are not the banu adam you're looking for," he said.

I'm totally ok with references to other works (as long as they're nice) and I feel that it's ok to give djinn the power to perform Jedi mind tricks. However, I feel that if one is going to do that, one should do it with a hint of irony and at least reference the source. When I read that line, I acknowledged that it was there and read on to see if the characters would. One of them giggled, but it was unclear if it was at the Star Wars reference or the silliness of the situation.

This is a small thing, but I am always very aware of the authorial voice as it has the power to rip me out of my immersion. If I think for a moment that the author is taking him/herself too seriously, it jars me right out of the story.

Consider this excerpt:

"...I mean, look at all the eastern writers who've written great western literature. Kazuo Ishiguro. You'd never guess that The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go were written by a Japanese guy. But I can't think of anyone who's ever done the reverse - any westerner who's written great eastern literature. Well, maybe if we count Lawrence Durrell - does the Alexandria Quartet qualify as eastern literature?"

"There's a very simple test," said Vikram. "Is it about bored, tired people having sex?"

"Yes," said the convert, surprised.

"Then it's western."

This little conversation made me stop reading the book in order to sort out my feelings here. The characters in this exchange are basically saying that people aren't meant to be adaptable and shift from one culture to another, but that people from the east do it better than people from the west. I read in the front that Ms. Wilson is a westerner, from New Jersey, but she's writing a book that takes place in the Middle East.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but what is she saying about her own work? Is she being incredibly humble and self-deprecating and including her work into the category of not being adaptable and well-written or is her ego soaring into the heights and she's trying to let us know that she's the one western writer who has accomplished what others haven't? Perhaps this is something that my mind fixated on and that I've made something out of nothing. The point is: I stopped reading the book to think about it.

So, on to the things I loved about it.

I've mentioned in previous posts that it's a tricky thing when an author writes a main character who is the opposite sex. It's very noticeable when it's wrong, not to mention extremely offensive. There are a few writers whom I have in my sights because of their shocking portrayal of women. I've read a few horrible portrayals of men at the hands of female authors as well, so ladies, you aren't exempt.

In this book, I felt like the author was spot on with the main character, Alif. The mistake that women seem to make when writing men is that they idealise them; they make them either flawless or horribly evil and there doesn't seem to be much in between. Alif is definitely flawed and not always brave, but he's loyal and determined to fix his mistakes. I found him to be quite likeable and sympathetic.

My inherent femaleness prevents me from being the best judge of whether or not he's an authentic character. But I liked him, so that's good enough for me.

The female characters were interesting as well. My knowledge of Middle Eastern women is pretty much non-existent so I have to believe that Ms. Wilson has done her research in this department. I know that we westerners tend to have a view of Middle Eastern women as being meek, submissive and without voices. That they are forced to cover themselves in veils by domineering men. Living in a multi-cultural city with a huge Middle Eastern population, I'm learning that a lot of what I thought about people from that part of the world is wrong. It was nice to see strong women who weren't being pushed around by men, but who were culturally different from me. I always seem read about the bad parts of Middle Eastern culture, but rarely have I seen anything that celebrates it.

One thing that I didn't like was that there is a character in the book, known as 'the convert' and that is how she is referred to throughout the book. I was a bit annoyed that she was never given a name. It wouldn't have been bad if she had been a throw away character that had a small part, but she was in a large part of the book and played a pivotal role.

I like that this book made me think about so many different things. I had actually read a review about it on someone else's blog and she didn't like it. I almost took it back to the library (twice) because of the things she said about it. I'm really glad that I didn't and that I decided to read it because it was different from anything else I've ever read. ( )
  BuffyBarber | Jun 5, 2016 |
LOVED it!! A totally serendipitous find from browsing the library shelf ( )
  GeetuM | Jun 3, 2016 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2614289.html

I bought this soon after it came out, but didn't get around to reading it until now. I really enjoyed it; a witty sexy Islamic virtual reality novel with djinn in, set in an unnamed Gulf princedom this year or next, with a flavour of the diversity and depth of the local culture - Arabic with many other infuences too. It was good to come to it so soon after reading the Arabian Nights and also at a time when I've been seeing (but not reading properly) a number of comment pieces about how and why the Arab Spring failed. I found it interesting that Wilson inserts herself (or someone very like her) into the book as a significant character; difficult to get away with, but I felt that it worked as a way of getting us to think about how we engage with the story ourselves. I see that it won the World Fantasy Award, which I should perhaps start tracking a bit more closely. ( )
  nwhyte | Apr 17, 2016 |
Cyber-punk meets the Arabian Nights. Triumphant nerds and a solid dose of techno-optimism. A bit too anime trite with the characters and the politics. Computing as magic merger is nicely done but at its core the sentiment is a bit of a naive yawn. We have a lovelorn, super programmer who seems able with a good nights hard coding to come up with something almost AI-like by using metaphoric coding and some genie genius.

Alif's world unravels around him, and in doing so, provides the setting for a coming-of-age story. With a standard Arab despot with all the usual state security apparatus and an Arab Spring with genies, you have politics that look concocted by the editorial desk of the New York Times. Minus the chopping off of heads or any of the real violence that accompanies these affairs. The love story/stories feel one dimensional. I just don't get what any of the female characters see in the naive and hapless Alif. Oh well, love is blind.

Alif the Unseen was a fun read, albeit thin on ideas and shallow in its politics. Reminded me of Cory Doctorow's books.




( )
  terribly | Mar 23, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)
...as with the work of many of the best young writers today, it is both a book written with a love of the fantastic in all its genres and a serious work of fiction.
added by melmore | editThe Guardian, Damien Walter (Dec 13, 2012)
 
For all its playfulness, “Alif the Unseen” is also at times unexpectedly moving, especially as it detours into questions of faith.... For those who view American fiction as provincial, or dominated by competent but safe work, Wilson’s novel offers a resounding, heterodox alternative.
 
It’s difficult to convey how outrageously enjoyable “Alif the Unseen” is without dropping names — the energetic plotting of Philip Pullman, the nimble imagery of Neil Gaiman and the intellectual ambition of Neal Stephenson are three comparisons that come to mind. Yet I’d hate to give the impression that the novel lacks freshness or originality.
added by melmore | editSalon, Laura Miller (Jul 1, 2012)
 

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G. Willow Wilsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sergio, ChristopherCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The devotee recognizes in every divine Name the totality of Names.

Muhammad ibn Arabi, Fusus al-Hikam

If the imagination of the dervish produced the incidents of these stories, his judgment brought them to the resemblance of truth, and his images are taken from things that are real.

François Petis de la Croix, Les Mill et Un Jours (The Thousand and One Days)
Dedication
For my daughter Maryam, born in the Arab Spring
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The thing always appeared in the hour between sunset and full dark.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802120202, Hardcover)

In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the State’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the head of State security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen. With shades of Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut—a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, religion, technology and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:41 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients, dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups, from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the State's electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover's new fiancee is the head of State security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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