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Alif the Unseen

by G. Willow Wilson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,497969,324 (3.81)151
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 fianceé 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)
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» See also 151 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
Yay! I liked this one. Place, culture, religion, djinn and expats. All rolled up in a rushing sandstorm of a narrative. I was never bored. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
4.5 stars. I really enjoyed this book; it had elements of magic/fantasy, technology, political drama, repressive society, religion, culture. Willow Wilson hes weaved a story of intrigue about a young Arab hacker, who seeks to allow Internet access to all who can afford his protection, and who falls in love with an upper class girl. When she breaks up with him, he writes a program that can identify a person based on their typing, syntax, etc. so he can hide from her, but the program falls into the hands of the repressive government, and is used to trap him. Entrusted with an ancient book, with mysterious powers, the hacker has to enlist the help of the dangerous Vikram and delve into the world of djinns and high technology. A bit predictable at times, there are wonderful characters, including the religious head of a mosque, with philosophy and moral issues galore. You won't read another book like this one. ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
I loved the world and the writing, but I never fully got into caring about the main character. He is very lucky in his friends for no clear reason. Maybe we all are. ( )
  ansate | Jul 1, 2021 |
Have you ever read a book you enjoyed so much you both wanted to devour it in one sitting and also hide it away because you never wanted it to end? This was totally that book for me. Action! Adventure! Hilarity! Bad, bad guys! Computer hackers! Jinn! Just the right amount of love story! It was just about everything I wanted out of a story. I loved how Wilson incorporated folklore and traditional Islam into a story about coding. Normally, I don't care for when an author creates a story within a story--as in taking up pages and pages with another pretend author's work. It generally just gets distracting and detracts from the overall plot. Maybe it's that I tend to like Middle East folktales and Wilson mirrored them really well, but I loved the few stories she made up for the Alf Yeom. I loved all the philosophical discussions of religion, mysticism, politics, and the digital age (and how they intersect), and that they kept up with the pace of the story. I loved, loved, loved all the jinn. I loved Alif's transformation in character over the course of the book. I loved how vivid Wilson's language was--there was no point where I felt like I was outside the book just reading the words.

How did this not get nominated for an Alex Award? This is absolutely Alex material.

I generally avoid buying books for my Kindle, but I happened to snag this as a Kindle Daily Deal as I had been meaning to read it for a while. I'm so glad I did, not just because I would have gone right out and bought it after reading it, but for the extra content at the end. The Kindle version includes a short section about the five types of jinn, a remarkable essay on how Wilson actually wrote this before the Arab Spring occurred, and an interesting interview about her aims to blend and communicate the East and West aspects of her life (plus a glossary, but between having a somewhat basic working knowledge of Muslim culture and the context the words appeared in the story, I never felt I needed to skip back to it and break the flow of reading). I noticed the hardbound copy my library owns does not have any of this, which, while perhaps not crucial to the book itself, is still somewhat of a loss.

I can't wait for Wilson's next book. In the meantime, I'm going to scour her back catalog. ( )
  LibroLindsay | Jun 18, 2021 |
Interesting subject but it didn't have the authentic feel of computer expertise you get with someone like Neal Stephenson. (probably an unfair comparison)

Also the audiobook narrator's pacing seemed way too sedate - I listened to most of it on 1.5 speed. ( )
  jlweiss | Apr 23, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (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)
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wilson, G. Willowprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brown, LisaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fusari, LucaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jhaveri, SanjivReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rovira, GemmaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmeink, JuliaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sergio, ChristopherCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sergio, ChristopherIllustratorsecondary 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
First words
Chapter Zero:
The thing always appeared in the hour between sunset and full dark.
Alif sat on the cement ledge of his bedroom window, basking in the sun of a hot September.
Quotations
“Be careful with this one," said Dina, bending down to greet the cat. "All cats are half jinn, but I think she's three-quarters.”
“These are not the banu adam you're looking for.”
Society didn't mind if you broke the rules; it only required you to acknowledge them.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 fianceé 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.

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Average: (3.81)
0.5 1
1 8
1.5 1
2 17
2.5 5
3 76
3.5 37
4 189
4.5 25
5 73

 

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