Nominated by:

The Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, USA

Cleveland Public Library, USA

Los Angeles Public Library, USA

Publisher of nominated edition:

Grove / Atlantic, USA

An Unnecessary Woman

Rabih Alameddine    

2016 Longlist

Aaliya Sohbi 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 thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read—by anyone. After overhearing her neighbors, “the three witches,” discussing her too-white hair, Aaliya accidentally dyes her hair too blue.

In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, readers 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.

(from publisher)

About the Author

Rabih Alameddine is the acclaimed author of the novels An Unnecessary Woman, The Hakawati; I, The Divine; Koolaids; and the short story collection, The Perv. He divides his time between Beirut and San Francisco and was a 2002 Guggenheim Fellow.

Librarians’ Comments

Seventy-two year old Aaliya never leaves her Beirut apartment where she translates her favourite classics from English into Arabic. Living with her books and memories amid the drama of modern Lebanon, Aaliya’s story is a precise, beautifully rendered account of the acceptance of aging through the minute detailing of daily life.

Rabih Alameddine, in his novel An Unnecessary Woman, has constructed a celebration of literature, a miniature history of Lebanon, and most importantly the remarkable story of Aaliya, an unmarried, childless misanthrope, a translator of great novels, whose life slowly (and thankfully) takes the shape of the very kind of corny storyline she detests.

A tour de force novel about a flinty, reclusive 72-year-old woman who lives in modern-day Beirut. Aaliya spends her days thinking about books, art, music and what, if anything, they have to do with real life, especially with her beloved city. However, once a year she takes on the self-assigned task of translating a book that she deems significant. A story about a woman bookseller who is an outsider, but who has a special pursuit – translating books.

Related Entries