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An Unnecessary Woman

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  10,642 ratings  ·  1,767 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 (first published 2013)
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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 s…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)
Amy This is a good question. Infact, some of her remarks were quite positive about Jews but at times she compares Israel and Lebanon equally harshly. She …moreThis is a good question. Infact, some of her remarks were quite positive about Jews but at times she compares Israel and Lebanon equally harshly. She also had less positive remarks about other Arab countries and appeared to vacillate on Palestinians (who are kept in refugee camps in Lebanon for decades now) who were eventually some were expelled. The middle east situation is far more complex than the average westerner understands. She also decries the killings by lebaneses on Lebanese, Arab on Arab. I thought she made it clear Beruit's problems were caused by not only many other countries and religios abut the personality of Lebanon itself.(less)

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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  10,642 ratings  ·  1,767 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Apr 16, 2014 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 otherwi
Jan 07, 2014 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
Elyse  Walters
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Update... $1.99 kindle special. Fabulous book at a great price - in case you missed it!
I took one small issue with the book
- but already had enough discussions about it for a lifetime. Lol
But .... really a VERY enjoyable book!!

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: ....
Update to review, October, 2017:

First, I agree with my initial review completely. I love the book, again, in the same and new ways. This time I read it more slowly, giving attention to Alameddine's prose, his style and the actual words and phrases he used in describing Aaliya, her neighbors, family, neighborhood, and city. This time I became captivated by Aaliya in a different way--by her struggle with an uncaring family in her youth, a struggle that has lasted her entire life; by the strength o
Richard Derus
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gifted
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 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
Was it necessary to read ‘An Unnecessary Woman’? About a woman in the twilight of her life, a product of rusted times? A woman from a foreign land, and of foreign blood? A woman who offered pursed whimpers amid teeth that reeked soupy yellow? One with a musty room and a flickering temper? A borderline linguist who made peace with the unspoken word? She was nothing more than a drifting sprinkle of dust in this swirling world of men and ambition.

May be, it wasn’t. It wasn’t necessary at all to re

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,
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
Dec 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Vessey by: Jeffrey
Shelves: 5-stars

“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
Diane Barnes
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-reads, favorites
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.

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 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, fiction, 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
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was in Haifa, Israel, seeing Jordan in the not-so-far distance, and finished this book that insinuated what happened to the soul of a young, sweet refugee Palestinian boy who simply wanted to read at the bookstore into what he'd likely become under the constant war in Lebanon. His village, "west of Haifa", was destroyed by the crazed and crazy state of Israel. I came to Haifa to see the Baha'i Gardens, decades after that religious group gave me a public award for anti-racism work in New Hampsh ...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
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
“Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside the box that gives me trouble.’ - Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman: A Novel

An Unnecessary Woman: A Novel arrested my interest from the very beginning and held it right to the end. It had a refreshing appeal on many levels. Set in Beirut, Lebanon, it painted a historical canvas of its turbulent years as seen through the eyes of an unlikely heroine, Aaliya Sohbi, a 72-year-ol
Dec 10, 2014 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 "proj
Diane S ☔
Jul 25, 2013 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
Jul 14, 2014 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
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
[4++] I loved Aaliya, "the unnecessary woman," of the title. The novel is a narrative of her ruminations and opinions about everything - but especially literature. I enjoyed every one of the literary references and how she tied them to her life and the world around her. Almaddine captured her voice and spirit beautifully. I don't know why I waited so long to read this - it is exactly my kind of book.
Dec 24, 2014 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
Lee Klein
Feb 27, 2014 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 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
E. G.
Aug 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to E. G. by: Elyse Walters
--An Unnecessary Woman

"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. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books..... if literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass - an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me life, and ...more
Nov 09, 2014 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
Stephen P
Aug 06, 2014 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 wait
Jul 06, 2016 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 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
Sidharth Vardhan
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sidharth by: Vessey's review
Shelves: 2-asia, bestest

“I’m not sure that the discovery of love is necessarily more exquisite than the discovery of poetry, or more sensuous for that matter.”

When little Aaliya’s mother discovered that her daughter had lost her purse, she predicted in a Delphi moment that Aaliya will never make a lady. Aaliya hadn’t lost the purse, she had exchanged it for an illustrated copy of 'A Tale of Two Cities'.

A reader

"I am a reader. Yes, I am a reader with nagging back pain."

Being taken out of sc
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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.

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