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An Unnecessary Woman

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  7,003 Ratings  ·  1,238 Reviews
One of Beirut’s most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine follows his international bestseller, The Hakawati, with a heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way.

Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and child
Hardcover, 291 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Grove Press
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Deborah Yes. The author's employment of Greek mythology into a story of a Lebanese woman, texturized by threads of philosophy, is a comforting yet troubling…moreYes. The author's employment of Greek mythology into a story of a Lebanese woman, texturized by threads of philosophy, is a comforting yet troubling story. This story of a woman who realizes all too late in life the value of her life, is told beautifully. The vocabulary is complex, had me exercising the pages of my Webster's dictionary. In short, I was challenged, I learned and I grew. Isn't that what National Book award winners are supposed to do for a reader? (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Apr 16, 2014 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jeffrey by: Nancy
”Although I know the characters of a novel as a collection of scenes as well, as accumulated sentences in my head. I feel I know them better than I do my mother. I fill in the blanks with literary personas better than I do with real people, or maybe I make more of an effort. I know Lolita’s mother better than I do mine, and I must say, I feel her more than I feel my mother. I recognize Rembrandt’s painted face of his mother better than I recognize the real face of mine.”

 photo Beirut1923_zps2a2671b3.jpg
Aaliya’s city otherwise
Richard Derus
Jul 03, 2014 Richard Derus rated it really liked it
Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: One of Beirut’s most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine follows his international bestseller, The Hakawati, with a heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way.

Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s "unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a n
Feb 03, 2015 Jen rated it liked it
Shelves: own
This was an 'unnecessary' read for me until the last several pages in which I could fully appreciate the extent and expanse of the story, the character. Prior to that, it was depressive and heavily laden with poetical and literary references that were hurting my head.
This is the story of 72 year old Aaliya, from Lebanon. A reflection of her life which she deemed as 'unnecessary'. Her definition being she was a divorcee, a mediocre cook and childless. Yet, she was highly educated, well versed in
Jan 07, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it
Rabih Alameddine is a name-dropper. By page 61 of this really exceptional novel he had dropped Sebald, Bolano, Svevo, Pessoa, Javier Marías, Dickens, Calvino, Balzac, Nabokov, Conrad, Donne, Bataille, Miller, Moravia, Shulz, Chekov, de Sade, Jong, Keats, Proulx, Garner, Rilke, Marquez, Burroughs, Mann, Becket, Welty, Saramago, Cioran and his favorite Arab writers of erotica: al-Tifashi, al-Tijani and al-Tusi. He has something to say about each of them. And then, in a flourish, in the next two pa ...more
The usual mood that prevails while reading ‘An Unnecessary Woman’ is something that can be observed during the time of a candid conversation with a fellow book lover who not only share your passion for books but also have similar reading preferences for most of the part. Mention of a personal favorite writer here, an interesting anecdote there and embellishing such dreamlike atmosphere with some lovely quotes. It’s like a sensible pampering of a reader’s soul in the most fun and exciting way pos ...more

The words ‘in my element’ flashed through my mind several times as I was reading this book because I was literally in my element, as if the adverb ‘literally’ and the phrase ‘in my element’ had been invented so that I could apply them to the experience of reading An Unnecessary Woman. It seemed as if the book concerned me and my life in a very personal way, though I am not a self-taught Lebanese intellectual, as is Rabih Alameddine’s narrator, Aaliya Sohbi.

If the book spoke to me so intimately,
Jan 18, 2014 Elyse rated it it was amazing
4.5 Rating! Until I came to page 195 --I was sure I was going to give this book a 5 star rating.

The positives for this book are STRONG!!!!! The negative-- on the top half of page 195 does not sit right with me!

This is what The New York Times wrote about this book: ....(I 'almost' agree)
"An Unnecessary Woman" is a meditation on, among other things, aging, politics, literature, loneliness, grief, and resilience. If there are flaws to this beautiful and absorbing novel, they are not readily appar
Dec 11, 2015 Vessey rated it really liked it
Recommended to Vessey by: Jeffrey
“There is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship”

David Foster Wallace

"Perhaps reading and writing books is one of the last defences human dignity has left, because in the end they remind us of what God once reminded us before He too evaporated in this age of relentless humiliations - that we are more than ourselves; that we have souls."

Richard Flanagan

Aaliya does not believe in God (to her he is
Jul 08, 2014 Mary rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, 2014, middle-east
I found myself completely engrossed in this strange and quietly melancholic tale of elderly Aaliya and her musings. At once a love letter to her beloved city of Beirut, a celebration of literature, and a meditative look back on her life, this story captivated and moved me. Although Aaliya’s life was relatively uneventful (even through war times, arranged marriage and her AK-47), it was more interesting than I thought it would be. Maybe that’s the point. Most of us will not have a life filled wit ...more
Dec 10, 2014 Eve rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2015
"Hope is forgivable when you're young, isn't it? With no suspicion of irony, without a soupçon of cynicism, hope lures with its siren song."

After finishing this voluptuous novel, I am seriously at a loss for words. I'm not a real fan of books about protagonist musings that lead nowhere, but this novel was delightful.

Aaliya is a single Beiruti woman in her 70s, living alone in a tiny apartment surrounded by the books she loves. Wary of people in general, she passes the years working on "projec
Jul 14, 2014 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The puttering, nervous recluse and his book is a familiar stereotype in the reading life of any bibliophile. Or any moviegoer with a taste for fantastic, cloak-and-dagger or the sort of conspiracy with historical clues and the need for specialists. However, instead of using the stereotype as a stepping stone for a hero or an affirmation of a set of lifestyle choices that is, by the medium of its delivery, guaranteed to find a sympathetic audience, Alameddine chooses to use the slightly odd life ...more
Absolutely wonderful on so many levels.
An Unnecessary Woman will undoubtedly be high on my list of favorite books of 2014. I've already planned to read it again and many of the books that Aaliya, our narrator, mentions, are on my reading list already. Some have now jumped higher! When I read about this book, I learned that it was about a woman who worked in a bookstore and translates books into Arabic. Oh but it is so much more than this! It is the story of Beirut and Aaliya, the personal and r
Diane S ☔
Jul 25, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
I stared reading this in e-book format a while back and just wasn't in the mood for an introspective novel. Plus there are just some novels I need to read in actual book form and though I set it aside I knew this was a book that I would probably love at some point or another. So it proved. This is a very introspective novel, a 72 yr old woman, although once married long ago she has been divorced for a very long time. Her world is books, poetry and music, she loves her solitude and her city, Beru ...more
Just before I began this book I learned that Rabih is a man’s name, a Middle-Eastern man’s name. It means, alternatively, “spring,” or “winner.” I wondered what kind of Middle Eastern man felt he could write a book about the internal life of an aging widow. And now I know. It would be a man who reads.

This is a book about loneliness and connection. Aaliya, a name meaning “the exalted one,” is a translator. That is, she spends her time translating into Arabic books written in English or French. So
Diane Barnes
Feb 27, 2014 Diane Barnes rated it it was amazing
I read another review here on Goodreads, and the reviewer stated that he loved Aaliyah. I can do him one better than that: I actually AM Aailyah.

She is a 72 year old, divorced, childless, Beiruti woman, living alone in a decaying apartment, practically abandoned by her mother and half-brothers. I am a little younger, American, married, have a grown daughter, a job, and a fairly active life with friends and family. Outwardly different, but inside my head, just like Aaliya. Exactly the same.

Dec 24, 2014 Mona rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Lovely, Introspective, Character Driven Novel

This novel won't be for everyone.

If you like lots of action, a fast moving story, chase scenes, violence, sex scenes, etc., this won't be your book (although there is one sex scene in it :) )

If, on the other hand, you have a tolerance for slower moving stories in which many things do happen, but more slowly; and you like books that delve deeply in the the interior state of a single character, you'll love this.

The book really consists of a monologue
Feb 27, 2014 Lee rated it liked it
A generous three stars. The author may one day write a wonderful novel -- there were a handful of perfectly phrased, insightful passages -- but I too often disbelieved this one's artifice, its artful artlessness. I didn't trust it -- the author clearly animated the voice and its perception. Too many similes in the language, everything overimbued (ie, sentences suffered from Clever Analogy Overload Disorder). Intertexual intrusion to the freaking max, always arriving right on schedule, always bre ...more
Aug 03, 2014 Teresa rated it really liked it
Recommended to Teresa by: Sue
I am drawn to portraits of women on the so-called margins, Toibin's Brooklyn and other of his works come to mind, as well as Messud's The Woman Upstairs, whose main character thinks in literary references, as does Aaliya in this novel, not to show off, there is no one to show off to, but because literature is what she lives, breathes and even prays to, calling on writers, such as "O Coetzee" and "O Flaubert," to help her in her time of need.

Aaliya is as prickly as Strout's Olive Kitteridge. She
Stephen P
Aug 06, 2014 Stephen P rated it liked it
Shelves: interiority

When I read the blurb I blushed. I know writers lead busy lives. So, when one takes time out to write a book specifically for me my humility flows in torrents.

In this case a study of the internal life of a character (A 72 year old woman in Beirut) who lives in solitude in her apartment where she has lived for years. It is stacked full of books. What more do I need? Two and a half morsels of food and three drips of water a day. The cover is a bright red and it quickly became my red book waiting f
Of course, the moment of enlightenment was when dear Aaliyo discovered coffee. The coffee is ambrosia, a flavor of heaven.

And that's how my mind worked at the end of this book. A little bit of my own trumpery about the life of the seventy-two-year-old woman in Beiroet. So jejune of me. After all, Aaliya Sohbi lived alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. "Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s "unnecessary appendage.”

Three witches, as she
Jul 06, 2016 Margaret rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those passionate about literature
Recommended to Margaret by: Fionnuala
The first thing that strikes a reader of this book is the vibrancy of the speaker’s voice. Here are the first two paragraphs:

You could say I was thinking of other things when I shampooed my hair blue, and two glasses of red wine didn’t help my concentration.

Let me explain.

I just couldn’t help being drawn in by this first person narrator Aaliya, a seventy-two year old woman living alone in Beruit. She’s deemed unnecessary because (as the bookflap tells us) she is “Godless, fatherless, childless,
Dec 12, 2014 Dianne rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2015
There is so much to love in this book - beautifully written, a complex and compelling main character, a vivid exploration of a foreign culture and an homage to books and the love of reading.

Aaliyah Saleh is the narrator and she is speaking to you, the reader. Aaliyah is divorced, childless and friendless and has lived on her own for many years in an apartment in Beirut. She worked in a bookstore but is now retired. Each year, she translates a major piece of literature from French or English to A
Jennifer (aka EM)
Oct 19, 2014 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bibliophilia
A beautiful book for bibliophiles.

This book is a gorgeous character study of an aging misanthrope who loves, loves, loves literature. All forms of art, really, but literature in particular. And like all misanthropes, inside she is a quivery, sad, anxious mess of longing and need for human contact. She may sublimate all she wants by translating, but the ending shows how much of a cover-up this sublimation is and - within the context of the lives lived in Beirut over the past 72 years - how much t
Nov 09, 2014 Annie rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book and I tried to get into it but it felt like sitting next to a great aunt at Thanksgiving who rambles on and on. By the time she says something interesting you realize that you haven't heard a word she has said for the last twenty minutes because you were mentally debating the merits of getting another piece of pie vs. fitting into pants the next day. Now she has said something fairly interesting (along the lines of "that was the year I nearly shot a man with an ...more
Jan 25, 2014 jordan rated it it was amazing
After reading Rabih Alameddine's last novel the Hakawati, I became something of an evangelist, pushing it on all my friends (who, given its length, were somewhat resistant). With "An Unnecessary Woman," the author goes in an entirely different direction. The novel's narrator is an elderly Lebanese woman living in Beirut who translates novels -- one a year -- as a hobby. In an ironic opening for this ironic novel, we find her considering the a work by Sebald, the great deceased German author to w ...more
Jessica Woodbury
Jun 16, 2016 Jessica Woodbury rated it really liked it
Shelves: authors-of-color
I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a single woman in the world. I am one and I never planned to be and yet here we are. I have thought about whether, despite my expectations, this is the best life for me. I have thought about what is really important to me and how I can build my life around it. What I have not thought about so much is what it means 20, 30, 40, 50 years down the line.

Aaliya is old enough to be old. She has been divorced for decades and has no children. Sh
Feb 11, 2014 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love books that make me want to read other books. An Unnecessary Woman is filled with books and is in some ways a homage to books.

Aaliya is an aging woman who lives alone in Beirut. She has spent the last 50 years translating books into Arabic. She is a bit of a loner but at the same time she is desperate for companionship. This book asks some tough questions about life and its meaning and what a meaningful life is. My only complaint about the book is that of the many many books that are quot
Jan 16, 2014 Elise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
I finished reading "An Unnecessary Woman" this morning, and I loved every page of it so much that I hesitate to return it to the library until I absolutely have to--so many wonderful pieces of wisdom, wit, humor, and great book recommendations in its pages. This one is definitely shelf-worthy. I will have to hunt down and buy a copy.

This is the story of divorced, childless, and aging Aaliyah, who lives alone in Beirut of the 1980s and 1990s. She sleeps with an AK-47 in her bed at night for prot
Dec 11, 2014 El rated it liked it
I mentioned at work recently that I would be reading this book for my real life book club; the reason I brought it up to someone specific is two-fold: The surgeon I was talking to is Lebanese (actually, a few in the office are) and I wondered if he had heard of it, and also because the author and this surgeon share the same first name. (He wasn't as impressed by that fact as I was, but that's not surprising.)

When I told him the title of the book, he said solemnly: "There's no such thing."

His poi
Sep 13, 2014 Jennifer rated it did not like it
Shelves: lapl
About 100 pages in, I felt like the author was speaking to me as opposed to the character he's set up for me to believe in. A character who, despite being less than educated in literature, growing up in a terrorist war zone, and having an elderly failing memory, somehow speaks on the topic with the finesse and exactitude of a scholarly expert. I'm not buying it. She doesn't even have access to running water or electricity at points in her life let alone access to Google, which, if she did, could ...more
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Rabih Alameddine (Arabic: ربيع علم الدين) was born in Amman, Jordan to Lebanese parents, and grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon. He was educated in England and America, and has an engineering degree from UCLA and an MBA from the University of San Francisco. ...more
More about Rabih Alameddine...

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“No loss is felt more keenly than the loss of what might have been. No nostalgia hurts as much as nostalgia for things that never existed.” 65 likes
“I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time.” 48 likes
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