Author: Rahih Alameddine
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication Date: February 4, 2014
Number of Pages: 291
How I Got It: NetGalley
Aaliya Saleh 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.
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.
A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the prodigiously gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East.
For the last fifty years Aaliya Saleh has begun a new translation every January first. Now she is seventy-two years old and has chosen a 900 page unfinished book to translate this year. As Aaliya tells readers why she has chosen which books to translate, we begin to see inside her little world. Any book loving hermit can understand the contentment she feels where others see a hermit. She doesn't produce the translations for the public or for pay, she simple does them because the words make her happy. The stories around her apartment are interesting in that she is in the middle of a war, has a gossipy group of neighbors, and is outcast from her family. As a bookworm, she's a very lovable character:
I walk myself back to my bedroom, back to the stack of books on my mirrorless vanity, unread books that I intend to read, a large stack. Choosing which book isn't difficult. The choice is typically the last one I brought home. I acquire books constantly and place them in the to-read pile. When I finish with whatever book I'm reading, I begin the last book I bought, the one that caught my attention last. Of course, the pile grows and grows until I decide that I'm not going to buy a single book until I read my stack. Sometimes that works.I mean what book lover can't relate to that? This book is a wonderful microcosm of daily life and Aaliya is a lovingly relatable character. I will be recommending this, especially to women's fiction lovers looking for a bit of diversity.
** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review **