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Alif the Unseen | [G. Willow Wilson]

Alif the Unseen

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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 “Hand of God”, as they call 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.

©2012 G. Willow Wilson (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (95 )
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3.7 (84 )
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Story
3.9 (85 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Nick LAKE MILLS, WI, United States 12-19-12
    Nick LAKE MILLS, WI, United States 12-19-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Entertaining and insightul"
    What did you love best about Alif the Unseen?

    Story takes the reader into parts of a culture and land that is unfamiliar, yet exciting. A mixture of religion, culture, technology, and adventure appeals to a wide variety of readers.


    Have you listened to any of Sanjiv Jhaveri’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Sanjiv managed to portray different voices for each character. I found this not only entertaining, but useful as a listener.


    Any additional comments?

    Altogether a great listen that compels me to desire more.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Virginia United States 10-22-13
    Virginia United States 10-22-13
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    "Something different"

    I really did enjoy the book, even though it's kind of a new genre for me ... what i liked most about it is that it took me away from everyday life to a new mysterious existence .... it's also challenging in some aspects ... as it did challenge many of my firmly held beliefs ...
    one thing i know for sure ... i will never look at a "veiled" woman the same way again ... which is quite cool really

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    daniel la mesa, CA, United States 01-29-14
    daniel la mesa, CA, United States 01-29-14 Member Since 2012
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    "So many Catholic fanatics seem to hate this book"
    Would you listen to Alif the Unseen again? Why?

    well probably not. it ain't Samuel Beckett


    What other book might you compare Alif the Unseen to and why?

    This type of underdog computer hacker story reminds me a lot of Ernest Clines Ready Player One


    What about Sanjiv Jhaveri’s performance did you like?

    He provided a clear voice that was strong and seperated the characters well


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    All of the muslim religion stuff was cool and unique. As i am a recovering catholic I've been exposed to a lot of Catholic dogma and I didn't know much about muslim religion, this provided a fun overview of the magical realism of Islam


    Any additional comments?

    I can't understand people who say a book is terrible because its muslim propaganda. I picked this book up to spite those close minded prejudice people and was pleasantly surprised in how much I enjoyed it. Forget the nay sayers who are anti anything that isn't jesus centric, or are American brainwashed. I don't read to be closeminded and perpetuate ignorance. Pick this book up! especially if you like underdog adventure stories and don't mind a bit of the fantastical. Plus it provides some crazy good insight about close minded Americans and enlightens you to different philosophical views while still remaining a page turner. That says something. Trust me it ain't for stupid people

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    H. Hartman At school 10-11-12
    H. Hartman At school 10-11-12 Member Since 2012

    I don't have time to actually read anymore... does that make me undignified?

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    "This Sanjiv Jhaveri Guy..."

    Honestly, this isn't a bad story. I listened to it during my commute and sometimes while at work. IF (and this is a really big IF) you don't mind the narrarator making the most bizarre and uncharacteristic voices for some of Wilson's characters. It really took me out of the story sometimes. One of the djinn characters had the voice of some creepy rapist/pedophile. Even though he's one of the best written characters, I just couldn't handle it. Obviously written by a man, because every time the boy protagonist meets a new woman character, he is always "uncomfortable" at the way that they look him up and down. I appreciated some of the imagery, having grown up on the Arabian Peninsula myself. Accurately described social dynamics. If you can get past the weird performance, as well as all of the pseudo-mysticism (it's like he forgets about it sometimes), then you might enjoy this.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 05-28-14
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 05-28-14 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "21st Century Arabian Nights"

    This snappy, issue-aware urban fantasy adventure is the kind of book that Neil Gaiman might have written had he lived in the Middle East. To me, the setting was a breath of fresh air in a genre that could use a little more diversity, and Wilson engages with the intersection between the modern world and the folkloric, spiritual past in a way that has a little more depth and honesty than a typical fantasy novel.

    The story, after a prologue set centuries in the past, opens in the present day. Alif, a scrappy, somewhat arrogant young hacker, spends his days helping various dissident and black market groups circumvent the Sauron-like cyber-eye of state security in his unspecified country. When his beautiful upper-class first love jilts him (for reasons that seem particular to that culture), he hits his keyboard and takes petty geek revenge on the young woman. But, like a sorcerer's spell, the program, which may indeed have the mark of otherworldly spirits on its bits and bytes, gets out of control and falls into the wrong hands. The really wrong hands.

    However, Alif also manages to acquire an ancient book, that has to do with the lore of the djinn, the supernatural people who still inhabit the world, but are hard to see until one finds true faith. This puts him in touch with some interesting new friends.

    The plot, once it unfolds, is a little predictable in its outlines. Of course Alif will eventually fall for the annoyingly devout girl next door. Of course the cantankerous old imam will prove to be a kindly, wise ally. Of course the lore of the djinn will grant Alif superhuman Hollywood hacking powers. Of course the spoiled young prince will find his courage. Of course the bad guy will eventually get his just desserts. But, I liked that these tropes all felt genuinely Middle Eastern in their detail, and had humor. When an Arab Spring-like movement unfolds in the latter part of the novel, Wilson grasps both its hope and its frightening uncertainty.

    The novel’s most intriguing ideas, however, feel less than fully developed. I was curious about the author’s vision of Islam as a faith deeper and more sublime than the negative stereotypes most Americans have of it. Conversations that discuss why religious observance matters in an increasingly connected world and how both must transform, consider the relationship between djinn and man (I hadn’t realized that the former were part of the Koran), or explore the power of metaphors in revealing the nature of the universe are interesting. The message felt a little muddled, though, as though the author was trying to find a middle ground between asking questions about faith and promoting her own. Also, speaking as a software developer, let’s just say that the technical aspects of the story rely on a lot of magic realism. Coding and hacking aren’t quite this visual.

    Still, I'd rather read a novel that's ambitious and misses a few marks than one that's merely a different coat of paint on familiar ideas. In striving for a synthesis between myth and technology, East and West, tradition and modernity, Wilson manages to both entertain and expand consciousness. That's impressive in a young writer. Audiobook reader Sanjiv Jhaveri provides a wealth of accents and voices, though a few are a little hammy and annoying.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Amissville, VA, United States 06-18-14
    David Amissville, VA, United States 06-18-14 Member Since 2011
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    "A disappointment"
    What disappointed you about Alif the Unseen?

    Too much minute description of everything, from walls, to floors, to every creatures, to clothing, while the story drags and drags and drags.


    Would you ever listen to anything by G. Willow Wilson again?

    Probably not. If this is his typical style, I probably could not get through another book.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Sanjiv Jhaveri?

    Don't know...but his attempts to give every character a different voice failed miserably. He was awful.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    Can't think of any.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    PhilR Greeley, CO 02-06-14
    PhilR Greeley, CO 02-06-14 Member Since 2010
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    "A great adventure"

    Tagged a fantasy—and rightfully so, but for those believing they don’t like fantasy I encourage you to suspend a modicum of belief in order to enjoy a wonderful adventure that informs us about culture, religion, philosophy, politics, and technology.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cleveland NEW YORK, NY, United States 12-30-13
    Cleveland NEW YORK, NY, United States 12-30-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A Thousand and One Nights for our time"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Absolutely! It is more than just an entertaining story. It is a window into a culture that we often see in two dimensions through the filter of governmental and extremist actions.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Alif and the girl next door of course.


    What about Sanjiv Jhaveri’s performance did you like?

    Sanjiv's performance was spot on. He is an excellent linguist capable of many varied accents. He had studied the text and was spot on with his reading, building to climaxes and softening to a whisper at all the write times.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Randy aurora, CO, USA 12-12-13
    Randy aurora, CO, USA 12-12-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Interesting"
    Any additional comments?

    I found this listen entertaining though not engrossing. The author presumes that things are understood without explanation. I find it questionable the abilities of the actions by those in the book. The book highlights the good though of the Muslim and Islam people, something lately misunderstood.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nessa near Atlanta, GA, USA 11-14-13
    Nessa near Atlanta, GA, USA 11-14-13 Member Since 2004

    Nessa

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Just not good"
    What disappointed you about Alif the Unseen?

    I was hoping for a rich picture of the middle east, interesting characters, and some fun fantasy. Instead, the characters are barely developed and the creatures are so unimaginatively written (lots of faceless blobs), that I couldn't bring myself to care about them.

    The biggest disappointment was the ridiculous idea of a guy writing code so quickly, mindlessly and amazing that it simply melts computers. The explanations of how and why things work are way beyond the normal suspension of disbelief that the reader expects in a fantasy novel.

    Lastly, it was more an advertisement for Islam than I expected. I felt like the author's agenda was to show how this religion is so wonderful. I don't mind reading religious fiction, but I want to know about it ahead of time. If you want a good book that includes the Djinn, I would send you elsewhere—The Golem and the Jinni is far more developed and interesting.


    Would you ever listen to anything by G. Willow Wilson again?

    no


    How could the performance have been better?

    The reader's exaggerated performance of the supernatural characters was distracting and terribly annoying. He also made the American convert sound like a witless idiot, when her character was plainly not written that way.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    I was very disappointed, and more than a little irritated.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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