December 15, 2016
Alif the Unseen by G.Willow Wilson (Review)
Author: G.Willow Wilson
First published: 2012
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Since I started learning Arabic in summer, I'm trying to also learn more about the Middle East, because frankly speaking, my ignorance is vast and unpardonable. Alif the Unseen combines all the stuff that I love so much in books - computer sci-fi and urban fantasy - set on a backdrop of one of the rich oil cities in the Middle East. And the setting is not just a prop - the background defines the characters and the storyline, and the reader learns so much while not being explicitly lectured.
Alif is a young and poor computer genius who earns money by providing online anonymity to everyone who needs it. As social unrest breaks into Arab Spring revolutions across the region, the government becomes less and less happy with Alif, and BIG PROBLEMS are looming in front of him. Alif, of course, is more concerned about his girl issue, because, well, hormones. When shit hits the fan, he has to make some tough decisions and seek help in unimaginable places. But I won't tell you more of the plot, do yourself a favor and read the book :)
I loved how Alif the Unseen tackles the social and religious aspects of life in the nameless City - without any kind of judgment, very matter-of-factly. The wild mix of characters lets the reader observe a lot of facets of life in a Muslim police state and make her own opinions on them. There is also a very powerful message that however different people are, they can work together if they respect each other, and this is the only way to get things changed for the best.
My only problem with the book was how programming issues are tackled (professional deformation, you know :)) and that sometimes the action just stops so that the characters have time to philosophize about IMPORTANT STUFF. But, you know, these are minor problems in an overall great book.
In my book: An exciting sci-fi + fantasy read that also gives you tons of interesting insights of the Middle East life.