“…𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘴𝘵𝘶𝘥𝘺𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘥𝘪𝘥 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘰𝘥𝘶𝘤𝘦 𝘮𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘶𝘢𝘨𝘦’𝘴 𝘮𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘤 — 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘤𝘦𝘥 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘮𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘤 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘪𝘵𝘢𝘭 𝘢𝘥𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘴… 𝘐𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘱𝘰𝘦𝘵𝘳𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘰𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘮𝘺 𝘦𝘺𝘦𝘴; 𝘱𝘰𝘦𝘵𝘳𝘺… 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘴𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘵𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘧 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘰𝘧 𝘮𝘺 𝘣𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘯 — 𝘱𝘰𝘦𝘵𝘳𝘺, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘢𝘱𝘪𝘥𝘢𝘳𝘺… 𝘐 𝘳𝘦𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘤𝘬 𝘰𝘧 𝘢 𝘥𝘰𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘥 𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘶𝘢𝘨𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘶𝘴𝘤𝘪𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘥.”
Our “Unnecessary Woman” is a Beiruti who spends a life reading and translating the works of non-Arabic literary giants into Arabic. What I find remarkable here is that her whole life and character is unfurled through the literary criticism of other works.
By the time a reader is done reading this book, they will have an infinite reading list.
No dizzying magic carpet rides from Rabih Alameddine this time, no shocking form-defying stunts of the novel, just an engaging and steady stream of thoughts and memories about Beirut and its place in the world, and mainly a life lived in literature.
This is a contemplation on such a life, on writers, on readers, on literature. But if we listen closely, it does not necessarily glorify this kind of life. Instead, it asks questions: “𝘎𝘪𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦, 𝘱𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘱𝘩𝘺, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘴 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘧𝘭𝘶𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘦𝘥 𝘮𝘺 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘐 𝘥𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦?”
“𝘐 𝘮𝘢𝘥𝘦 𝘮𝘺𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘧 𝘧𝘦𝘦𝘭 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘣𝘺 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘫𝘦𝘫𝘶𝘯𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 ‘𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘴 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘪𝘳 𝘐 𝘣𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘦,’ 𝘰𝘳, 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘴𝘦, ‘𝘓𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦,’ 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘪𝘯 𝘢 𝘸𝘦𝘢𝘬 𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘮𝘱𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘢𝘷𝘰𝘪𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘐 𝘧𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥 𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘱𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘮𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦.”
Our heroine is a flawed human being especially when it comes to human relations, and to read Alameddine is to learn to be patient with some details that make one uncomfortable — but does he teach you so many things! And to learn… isn’t that exactly why we read? Even when one of the things being taught indirectly is that tricky balance between literature and life.