Rabih Alameddine is a Lebanese-American author whose captivating literary works have earned him global acclaim and recognition. With a keen eye for exploring the intricacies of identity and racial influence, Alameddine’s novels are thought-provoking and introspective. He uses his innovative storytelling techniques to delve into themes that resonate with readers regardless of their nationality or religion. From the award-winning An Unnecessary Woman to the mesmerizing The Hakawati, Alameddine’s writing is testimony to his ability to craft rich, multi-layered tales. His insightful approach has firmly established him as a prominent voice in contemporary literature.


Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman is a nonconformist novel that takes readers on a journey into the contemplative life of Aaliya Saleh, a 72-year-old recluse in Beirut. Alameddine has skillfully captured Aaliya’s personality, showcasing her sharp intellect, passion for literature, and social isolation.

The plot revolves around Aaliya’s daily existence and self-identification as an “unnecessary woman” in a society that highly values conformity. Aaliya’s family also plays a significant role in shaping her identity as such. She is divorced, childless, and godless, all of which make her feel detached and insignificant. Her pestering mother and half-brothers, who covet her apartment, exasperate her to no end. Their constant presence serves as a reminder of the very societal pressures and expectations that Aaliya resists.

Aaliya lives alone in her apartment, surrounded by piles of books. Each year, she translates a favorite text into Arabic, a task that remains hidden and unread. Through her translations, Aaliya absorbs the creative essence of the writers she admires. Ultimately, this is what helps her get through her tragic existence. She sees her work as a labor of love; she lives on her terms and finds solace and purpose in her solitary pursuit of literature.

However, despite her anti-social outlook, two people leave a genuine impact on Aaliya’s life. The first is Ahmad, a young student who initially shares her love for literature only to eventually abandon it for the revolution. Their connection highlights the tension between personal passions and societal demands. The second is Hannah, a close friend whose life story and fate are critical to the story. She represents someone who, like Aaliya, is seen as unnecessary by the society, but manages to find a place for herself through self-delusion. However, the eventual loss of that illusion leaves her devastated. These characters reflect a fine balance between finding purpose and succumbing to disillusionment.

Beyond personal relationships, the city of Beirut serves a backdrop and a character in itself. Aaliya’s connection to Beirut is deep-rooted, and her daily walks through the city allow her to contemplate and reflect. Scarred by war and hardships, Beirut becomes a metaphor for Aaliya’s fragmented life. She mulls over the fractures in her existence while looking back on the tragic histories of her beloved composers. The city’s resilience and ability to withstand adversity resonate with Aaliya’s, offering a sense of solace amidst her struggles.


In An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine weaves philosophical musings, memories, and observations, creating a profoundly introspective narrative. Aaliya’s reflections on life, literature, and the human plight are intriguing. They exquisitely convey the lasting impact of literature on one’s perception of the world.

Despite its philosophical nature, through Aaliya’s no-nonsense attitude, the novel maintains a sense of humor. Her candid remarks and biting observations about contemporary literature add a touch of levity to the narrative.

The novel features books by literary giants such as W.G. Sebald, Roberto BolaΓ±o, Joseph Roth, Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, and Fernando Pessoa. Including their quotes, contexts, and metaphors adds depth and intellectual richness to the narrative, creating a delightful literary experience for readers.


Despite its uniqueness, some readers may not find the novel appealing due to its dark humor.


I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it, I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books.

I am my family’s appendix, it’s an unnecessary appendage.


Ameya Score:

Make no mistake, An Unnecessary Woman is a literary masterpiece. Ameya would wholeheartedly recommend every reader to try this unique and refreshing novel.

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Madhu book review writer at Ameya

A reverential admirer of words, Madhu loves watching them weave their bewitching magic on cozy afternoons.