An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine | Book Review

“I would be reading at my desk, something she deemed part and parcel of my job, and considerate as she was, she kept me company but left me undisturbed. We were two solitudes benefiting from a grace that was continuously reinvigorated in each other’s presence, two solitudes who nourished each other.”

“I identify with outsiders, with the alienated or dispossessed. (…) I like men and women who don’t fit well in the dominant culture, or, as Alvaro de Campos calls them, strangers in this place as in every other, accidental in life as in the soul.”

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alemaddine tells a story of a 72-year-old woman, Aaliya who lives in Beirut. She is a recluse who lives her life through literature. It is a portrayal of an older woman who looks back at her life and tries to determine whether her life was meaningful, whether her life was “necessary”.

This tale is a confession of an introvert, a love letter to literature. This book is full of reflections on loneliness, disconnection,  treatment of the outsiders by the society. In one of the interviews, I have heard Rabih Alameddine mentioning Bruno Schulz, a great Polish-Jewish writer whose story partly inspired Rabih to ponder on what one defines as a ‘necessary’ or ‘unnecessary’ life and what makes someone’s life valued.

We travel with Aaliya across the present and the past, through the history of her family, her failed marriage. The complex and rich history of Lebanon provides a background for this story.

An Unnecessary Woman is full of the nuanced musing, inner monologues on life of a woman who has decided to defy social norms to live in accordance with her true herself.

The reflections on literature, art, music and philosophy will warm the hear of every bibliophile. There is a plethora of reference to the giants of the European and Latin American literature including Fernando Pessoa, E.M. Cioran, Stendhal, W.G. Sebald, Spinoza, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Tadeusz Borowski, Lorca, Bukowski, Hemingway, Slawomir Mrozek, Rilke, Sartre, Irme Kertesz, Primo Levi, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky and my favourite, Bruno Schulz. There are also multiple references to classical music, especially a great Polish composer, Frederic Chopin.

This book resonates with me deeply as it refers to the power of a written word and its impact on how one can connect with the rest of humanity.  The stories allow to humanise or sometimes re-humanise ‘the other’; they allow us to feel what ‘the other’ feels.

“When I read a book, I try my best, not always successfully, to let the wall crumble just a bit, the barricade that separates me from the book. I try to be involved. I am Raskolnikov. I am K. I am Humbert and Lolita. I am you. If you believe you’re not like me (…), then you’re unable to empathize.”

Alameddine R (2015) An Unnecessary Woman

It is also about the position of woman who does not fit into the stereotype prescribed by her family, the society she lives in.  I love the fact the protagonist is an elderly woman as there are not many novels, stories focusing on older women.

The story of Aaliya shows that women can be nuanced regardless of their ethnicity or where they come from.

Beirut provides a background for the story of Aaliya and it is an essential part of her identity, but it is also a character in the story. The novel depicts the importance of the city and its impact on the individual life choices.

“Beirut is the Elizabeth Taylor of cities: insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart, aging, and forever drama laden. She’ll also marry any infatuated suitor who promises to make her life comfortable, no matter how inappropriate he is.”

Alameddine R (2015) An Unnecessary Woman

The portrayal of the solitude, and its importance in every introvert’s life is shown beautifully throughout the entire story.

“Isolation has carved me in its image and likeness.” Pessoa said that. He also wrote: “Solitude devastates me, company oppresses me.”

Alameddine R (2015) An Unnecessary Woman

If you love books, literature, if you are interested in women lives, if you want to look at the world from the point of view of an outsider, I would highly recommend An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine.

An Unnecessary Woman is a love letter to literature and to the importance of leading life true to oneself.  The story is based in Beirut, Lebanon; however, the emotions reflected on the pages of this book are universal. Reading An Unnecessary Woman about the life defined by one’s relationship with literature is a very moving experience.

“I prefer slow conversations where words are counted like pearls, conversations with many pauses, pauses replacing words.” 

Alameddine R (2015) An Unnecessary Woman

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