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BOOK REVIEW: An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine August 21, 2020

Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
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An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Almameddine Grove Press, New York, 2013.

In the comments on an earlier post, our Copious Reader clofa recommended some books and authors. I picked up An Unnecessary Woman because it was the only one of the books in my library system. And I’m so glad I did! Thanks, clofa. I read it in two sittings, and I would have read it in one sitting, but unfortunately a girl’s gotta sleep and do personal hygiene.

Clofa warned that some of her friends found it depressing, and yes, it is depressing. But it’s also uplifting and I find so much to identify with. The protagonist is an elderly (but not very elderly) woman living alone in an apartment in post-Civil-War Beirut. She was married young to a jerk of a husband who died and left her with an apartment. She supported herself by working in a bookstore for a small salary that allowed her to get by. She had one friend who died and eventually she became more and more introverted, feeding her soul on books and music and writing. Book clubs could discuss for hours whether her extreme introversion was “good” or “bad”, but ultimately it was what she wanted and it served her purposes for a long time. She didn’t seem to be lonely per se, but I caught undercurrents of a “what if” kind of loneliness now and then in the narrative. There’s a strange–not unfriendly but also not friendly–dynamic between her and three other woman who have been living in or visiting her building for decades, and you see this in regular beats throughout the narrative arc and then in the final climactic scene at the end.

Separate from (but not completely separate from) the mostly-positive portrayals of single life, this book also looked at an aging woman in a deep, sympathetic, and well-rounded way that you just don’t see a lot in literature (and especially not in pop culture in general).

And separate from THAT, the book also taught me so much about the Lebanese Civil War, of which I was woefully ignorate before (and TBH still am. . . ). We see the pressure to marry and the singlism through the eyes of a woman raised in Arab culture; the narrator says (p. 126),

A force of nature and nuture, an epigenetic hurricane, herds us into marrying and breeding. . .

But what woman in the western world can’t also relate to that sentiment to some degree?

–Christina

 

Comments»

1. clofa - August 22, 2020

Thank you for reviewing this book! I’m fed up of people thinking a story is boring if it has no romance in it.
As for Lebanon, it doesn’t seem we’ve learned much from the Civil War, as we seem to be heading there again (with the same warlords) 😦

Onely - August 30, 2020

Are you in Lebanon now? Are your friends ok after the explosion?

clofa - August 31, 2020

Yes, I’m Lebanon but away from the explosion site. Friends and relatives suffered home damage but lucky for us, no one was hurt. Thank you so much for asking ❤


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