OK so I had no idea the Lebanese flag had a tree on it. I looked it up, and it’s supposed to be a cedar tree. UGH. I LOVE IT.

tree hugging

Anyway.

Meet An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine! The Unnecessary Woman in question is Aaliya Saleh, who lives in Beirut following the end of the Lebanese Civil War.

Aaliya is 72 years old, and is self-described as “godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced.” What little family she has left is estranged, and her only friend, Hannah, died years ago. Despite all this, Aaliya does not consider her life boring. Her great passion is translating her favorite books into Arabic – a new book every year. No one has ever read her translations, however. She stores them safely away in closed boxes in her spare room.

This story fluidly fuses past and present Beirut (although the “present” in the book could now easily be seen as the recent past, due to new events in the three years since this book was published). Aaliya explores growing up, her relationship (or lack thereof) with her family, her love of literature, and her fellow tenants in the apartment building she occupies.

This is a really cool book kind of just based on the fact that Aaliya loves books so much. She also loves weird books (she prefers the word obscure, but whatevs), which is awesome and maddening all at once because I didn’t know most of the books that she mentioned, so on the one hand I really really admired her for being so well-read, and on the other hand I kind of felt really really stupid for not knowing at least a few more of the books that he mentioned. The struggle is real!

Alameddine did a really great job at creating a real character – a real likable character. There were times after reading a chapter or two where I really felt like I had just gotten done having a long conversation with a friend, rather than reading about a pretend woman in a country far, far away. Aaliya’s character feels very familiar, and that familiarity is at times welcoming, and at other times a little TOO real, if you get what I mean.

I also really liked her fellow tenants. There’s one woman who sticks out clearly in my mind. During the Siege of Beirut, this woman, wearing her fancy silk bathrobe, bright-red nail polish, and bedhead, this woman managed to single-handedly chase off a couple of unsuspecting looters from the building by standing on her balcony on one of the upper stories and firing her shotgun in the looters’ general direction – not to hit them, but close enough to scare them off. She was like the Lebanese version of a Wild West woman!

Anway. Highly recommended, if you’re into stories that are deeply introspective, and not necessarily high on the excitement scale.

What books have you read from Lebanon?

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