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Publisher's Summary

One of the Middle East's most celebrated voices, Rabih Alameddine follows his international best seller, The Hakawati, with an enchanting story of a book-loving, obsessive, 72-year-old "unnecessary" woman.

Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family's "unnecessary appendage." Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The 37 books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read by anyone.

In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman's late-life crisis, listeners follow Aaliya's digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colorful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya's own volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left.

A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the prodigiously gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East.

©2013 Rabih Alameddine. Recorded by arrangement with Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (P)2014 Audible Inc.

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  • Ilana
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • 02-14-14

Tales of a Literary Snob

When I picked up this book on Monday, I thought I might be in the mood for just this sort of thing, having seen glowing comments about it on a book site I frequent, and then the book summary itself convincing me completely I was in for a good time. The narrator Aaliya Saleh is a 72 year-old Lebanese woman who's lived all her life in Beirut. Though she was married off at 16 'to the first unsuitable suitor who came along', she ended up divorced by her impotent husband and childless 4 years later, rejected by her family and all but friendless, but always sustained by her great passion for literature, which also led her to develop a passion for music. The novel is told as a kind of memoir where she holds a long meandering monologue about herself, her youth, the civil war years, her current situation, the books she's read, the music she's listened to, and explains why she's spent the better part of her life translating 37 foreign-language books into Arabic starting from French or English translations (translations of translations), then putting the finished text in a box and sealing it away. On the day she starts her narration, her oldest half brother has just dropped by with their elderly insane mother, demanding that Aaliya take her in, a task she narrowly escapes, but an incident that leaves he shaken nonetheless.

From the outset, the book had all the elements which should have made for a very appealing reading experience, but very early on, I found myself repelled for all kinds of reasons which I am not sure I can detail without sounding petty. I started listening to the audio version, and found that narrated out loud, Aaliya came off sounding like an insufferable literary snob, with continual quotes from books and philosophers (which should have appealed, but didn't) and a strong tendency to complain about everything and everybody. I though if I switched to paper or an ebook edition, I might find her interesting rather than disdainful and annoying, and probably take lots of notes along the way about all these great books I should add to my wishlist and tbr.

So I switched to the kindle version, but still could not get comfortable with the novel. For one thing, I wasn't buying Aaliya at all as a character, and just seemed to hear the author's voice coming through loudly, very much a male voice to me. For another, I was displeased with the narrator's conversational tone, in which she constantly addresses the reader directly ('don't you think that's annoying? I certainly do') and makes too many apologies for veering off course. In short, I was too annoyed to enjoy the ride, and decided life was too short to spend it with an unlikeable 72 year-old trying very hard to be ornery like some of her favourite authors. Unconvincing, and pointless is what kept beeping in my head, and I dropped it. I know beyond a doubt that most lovers of great literature will find satisfaction here. I felt sure I would love this book, and it certainly had all the right ingredients, but ultimately I think Alameddine and I would not have a good time having tea together. For one thing, I happen to like putting milk in my excellent Earl Grey blends (a reference you will understand once you've read the book). I'm okay with the fact I'll probably be among a very small minority that is not completely won over by this one.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Didn't Get Very Far

Listen for a couple of hours, then decided I had a lot of better books in the queue. Perhaps a better title would be "An Uninteresting Woman".

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A romance, not with a man, but with books

I was hooked by the first few lines. The poetry of Alameddine, the tone and intellegence of her charactar pulled me in, as did her spirit.

Not much happens in this novel, but it was never meant to be a plot-driven novel. It's a romance, but her lover is books. She lives alone in her apartment, translating one book a year. Her prose caresses the works she loves, unflowery and lyrical. She tells of her life and treats the people in it as characters- since she is a translator, she has no control of the characters, nor does she want control. She lets life pass her, disinterested to all those except her books and those that threaten her solitude with them.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A Necessary Read

I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did. You know how everyone has that one book they really connect with and they need to reread it every year or so? This is that book for me. It brought me so much joy and the narration beautifully expressed Alameddine's tale. This may actually be my most bookmarked audiobook just because of how many passages were wryly witty or laugh-out-loud humorous. Even through the heartbreaking sections, I loved every minute and became so emotionally invested. I cannot recommend this book enough.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Pita
  • Miami
  • 08-02-14

An unnecessary story

Would you try another book from Rabin Alameddine and/or Suzanne Toren?

I might. The writing was not bad and the narrator did a very good job with the material. My problem with this book is that I did not find the story compelling enough regardless of the the subject matter.

Has An Unnecessary Woman turned you off from other books in this genre?

Not necessarily.

Which scene was your favorite?

I don't have one.

Was An Unnecessary Woman worth the listening time?

I did not enjoy this book although I did not find it a waste of time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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So refreshingly different

This made me feel like I was with a friend telling me a story. It was informative of the middle eastern conflict in the late 70's , early 80's. It was intellectual, artistic, humble, and down to earth all at once. So very good at painting a scene. So good at describing family drama. I learned a lot about history, family, human troubles, and so many other works of literature were mentioned. I miss it already.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Allowed Entrance into a world unknown--thank you

This story is so remarkable, I'm not sure what to say about it. It's broad without ever leaving a limited space, it's contemplative stance is a labyrinthine journey that doesn't know the answer but walks on and then human kindness
Lights a lamp and green returns to the woman. What a life to experience--Aaliyah!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Gloria
  • Carmichael, CA, USA
  • 01-07-15

Stick With It - it's a Slow Start

What made the experience of listening to An Unnecessary Woman the most enjoyable?

The woman's story comes together slowly and keeps you listening out of confusion and curiosity. She makes so many interesting academic references that you may want to investigate some of the people and books she includes in her musings. The book opened my eyes about the city of Beirut and the many difficulties they have endured.

What other book might you compare An Unnecessary Woman to and why?

Can't think of a comparable story.

Which character – as performed by Suzanne Toren – was your favorite?

The main character , Aleah.

Any additional comments?

It's a good read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • darswords
  • Christmas Valley, Oregon, United States
  • 08-13-17

Loved It!

A friend recommended this book to me. She and I are fascinated by languages. I think that was why she thought I would love this book. She was right.

I went looking for the book on Amazon and found the Kindle version a bit too pricey for my book budget. So I went to Audible and found I had a credit sitting there waiting for me to use. I was so glad I did! Suzanne Toren is a great voice for Aaliya Saleh, the woman living alone in Beirut, Lebanon.

Look, this book wasn't nail-biting excitement or in anyway stress inducing. But I loved hanging out with Saleh. This is the reason I love books. It is a chance to travel to other places and get inside other people's heads. This book is a perfect example of both of those. And it left me wanting to start doing my own translations for my own edification. I have plenty of books in other languages. I plan to pull out a notebook and just get busy.

I want to read this again and have the Kindle version to read along with the Audio. It helps me internalize the story better. Even so, the narrator kept the story very interesting and age appropriate. By the way, the fun of this book was it was about an aging woman. Stories of this type are rare! I don't think it would matter what gender or age you are this story has something for everyone to relate to and learn from. Enjoy.

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Made me wish I'd read more in my past

Very soulful book, showing one woman's inner thoughts in depth. Nothing much actually happens in the book, but the delth of reflection on her life and how this connects to literature is interesting.

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