“An Unnecessary Woman” is the stream-of-consciousness story of Aaliyah. We first meet in her twilight years. She’s old enough to tell us the raucous history of Lebanon while not so old that there’s no new adventures on her horizon. She was married off young to a guy who didn’t know how to be a husband. He divorces her and she ends up keeping the apartment. In the interim she works in a bookstore and there begins her own self-education. Once the book store gig is over, she turns to translating works of fiction into Arabic from English and/or French. Many of the books that she has translated end up woven into the narration of her life. As the story of her life catches up to the present, we are also drawn into the world of her apartment building that is also home to several other women that have outlived their husbands, raised their children, and are now figuring out the meaning of life for themselves.
In the past, I wasn’t much a fan of stream-of-consciousness but in this book it works. Ms. Alameddine’s prose is not confusing (e.g. Faulkner). Instead it sounds very much like Aaliyah is sharing her story to me personally. I felt I was in her apartment sharing a cup of tea while she went about the tasks of her day. There’s a strong connection to the way Aaliyah’s life develops and the history of Beirut around her. While this is not an historical novel, there’s certainly a lot of history here to be learned. The plot and history are adroitly woven together an neither sacrifices for the presence of the other.
This is a great book club pick because it will (should) interest various reading interests and spark a good discussion. I’ve not read a lot of books set in the Middle East nor written by Middle Eastern writers and this book and author certainly belong on anyone’s to-read list for those reasons and for the strength of the story and writing to boot.