Literature as Escape


In a blurry mirror, just a few sentences into the first chapter,  Aaliya. focuses a vision of herself, not helped by two glasses of red wine: a dye job gone blue. She's a mess. She's a reflection, perhaps, of all of us.

This week Chapter Endnotes Book Groups will dive into Rahib Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman. So far, feedback is strongly mixed. Why?

Aaliya Sohbi, a 72-year-old woman whose physicality has practically become one, molded into her reading chair cushions, rooted in the confines of her Beiruti apartment and way-too-large one, per her mother's estimation, is either received as likable or crusty. Readers accuse Aaliya or the author, another subject, I digress, of being a gauche name dropper of literary heavy hitters, an affect that either bore or overwhelm the reader. Conversing, the self-aware Aaliya is admired for being a strong woman in a war-torn city, who knows what she wants: to be left alone; to embrace ritual; to sleep with an AK-47, thank you very much; to fall into the biblio-rapturous rabbit hole of literary free-fall. 

Does anything really happen in this book? Consider: the beauty of sleep, the conundrum of translation, the problems with religion, the rejection of social norms, the pain of aging, the absurdity of war, the worth of hot water, the dependence on flicking on your lights. Nostalgia, memory. loss and friendship. Perhaps it is just a trip to a museum, a walk to a book store or simply reflections on times-past.

Aaliya is Clarissa. Beirut is her London. Virginia Woolf's protagonist leaves her place to run errands to prep for a party. Aalyia has to escape her apartment in order to avoid a neighbor's knock. 

As Ruth Ozeki's Old Jeko would say, "Same, same."

Why should we care about an aging hermit? We hear Camus' pointless philosophy tiptoeing throughout her apartment, her brain.

And yes, what is with all the allusions, imitated a la Alemmedine right here, throughout this entire epistle? Eye-rolling? Fun?  

 An Unnecessary Woman offers a reading list for life. As a book lover, what could be lacking? 

Looking forward to discussing this 2013 National Book Award Finalist. Although not a fan of lists, awards and all the other accolades, would this title have surfaced without the press that comes along with the honor?

A wonderful acknowledgment,