Weekly Capsule 23.2 & Book Review: Alif The UnseenPosted: June 10, 2015
I’ve had this book in my Kindle since forever, but it took me a while to read it, because as amazing as the premise sounds, it is also a little familiar: Alif is a hacker in a Persian Gulf emirate state, hiding behind his computer and a screen name (Alif is the first letter in the Arabic alphabet). This all changes one day when his aristocratic lover becomes engaged to the Head of State Security, and Alif receives from her a mythical book called The Thousand and One Days (a fictional counterpart of The Thousand and One Nights.) Soon Alif finds himself journeying through the world of the unseen, as he is pursued by both the police and jinns alike.
Now, jinns with Internet access sounds awesome. Take that away, though, and what you have left is a very standard cyber thriller. But then I found out that the author, G. Willow Wilson, was the creator of Marvel’s first Pakistani-American superhero, and I finally cracked open “Alif the Unseen”.
The book more or less meets my expectation. The fantasy part is great, with beautiful imagery and a wonderful blend of mythology and reality (a demon with a Dell, anyone?) I’ve read The Thousand and One Nights since I was a kid, so perhaps I’m more familiar with the mythology than most readers. Still, I think the author did very well to keep the mythology authentic and accessible to the average reader without dumbing it down. The thriller part I find a little slow in places, and the ending is a little anticlimactic, but it’s probably just my screenwriter mind talking. I only wish it could go a bit further: the fantasy more epic, the thriller/revolution more substantial, but overall, it was an enjoyable and quick read. I’d give it a solid 4/5.
On a character note (gosh, it sounds like one of my script analyses now), I’ve read some criticisms of the way the female characters are treated in the book, in that they are only accessories to Alif’s adventure, but I disagree. I think the female characters are well written while still staying true to their culture and religion (G. Willow Wilson herself is a Muslim convert), and they are integral to the story in their own way. “Strong” female characters don’t have to conform to the masculine standards; on the contrary, they are all the more interesting because they are so traditionally feminine.
As for the outfit, I decided to go super casual, like something a hacker would wear (Alif himself is described as wearing a black T-shirt and jeans), but with an intricate detail in my necklace, to reflect the “unseen” part. And yes, I finally buckled to the trend and bought a pair of slip-ons. How very normcore of me.
T-shirt: Uniqlo, Jeans & Sneakers: local shops, Necklace: my mom’s