Sometimes, the best things happen to exactly the right people. Like when I opened the New York Times this morning to find a review of G. Willow Wilson’s new novel, Alif the Unseen, on the front page of the Arts section. Yes, she lives in Seattle (when not in Egypt), and yes she’s a friend, and yes I’d be raving about this novel even if I’d never met her and she lived in Timbuktu.
I was waiting to write about it until the official publication date, July 3, but now that Janet Maslin’s beaten me to it, I’m free to enthuse. Because Ms Maslin only gets the half of it.
In a peculiar kind of shorthand, Maslin runs straight to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels as her comparison. But that’s ignores how sophisticated this novel really is. She’d have done better to think of Phillip Putnam’s The Golden Compass, then of Phillip K. Dick, then of…
But no, comparisons won’t do it. Take a close look at the cover — the computer board inside the Kufic-style name — and you’ll see instantly that Alif the Unseen is unique: a totally entrancing digital-age novel that combines computer hackers with genies, the serious reality of the Arab spring with the fantasy of A Thousand and One Nights, mathematical philosophy with accidental theology, myth with playfulness. In fact what’s stunning about it is how many levels it works on.
So I won’t even try to tell you what the novel’s “about.” That’d only be to turn magic into plodding summary. There’s a solid touch of genius in Willow Wilson’s genie world, and the only way to get it is to read it. Enjoy!
Sounds right up my usual reading alley. Will look for it.
To-read-books list updated.
finished. Interesting read. Its really a mixture aljazera, alif layla and a programer’s wet dreams. Thanks for the recommend. Can I have more of your favorite books please?
I don’t know your reading interests, so anything I recommend has a fairly high chance of dismally failing for you. All the more since my non-research reading goes all over the place (actually, so does my research reading, but with more discipline). But since you ask, and off the top of my head, one genre-defying contemporary I’ve been re-reading these past few months is Geoff Dyer. You might take a look at ‘Out of Sheer Rage,’ about not writing a biography of DH Lawrence; ‘But Beautiful,’ subtitled ‘a book about jazz’ but really not ‘about’ but from inside jazz; and his latest, ‘Zona,’ which is a meditation on/annotation of a movie I’d call a cult classic except that not enough people have seen it to constitute a cult (the movie being Andre Tarkowsky’s ‘Stalker’). — L.