An Unnecessary Woman26 Jun 2016
The word “necessary” is brutal. We all know what happens to unnecessary things, they are ended. Are translations necessary? Are critics necessary? If we argue that art is necessary for a full life, isn’t that need filled when a work of art is created? Are the derivatives of art, like criticism and translation, necessary? (I’ll stop with the annoying rhetorical questions now)
In naming this book “An Unnecessary Woman”, Rabih Alameddine gives the reader a provocation. Thankfully, throughout this book, he does the reader a service by engaging with that provocation and illuminating a thoughtful answer. Yes, translation and criticism are a necessary part of art and life. Aaliya, the protagonist and singular voice of this book, is funny, warm, sharp, wise, acerbic, well-read, well-spoken and alone. Rabih, through Aaliya, builds a fluid novel void of traditional structure and plotting that shows the importance of literature, critical thinking, intellectual engagement, independent thought and building a good life for yourself.
The novel ends with some calls to emotion which worked for me. However, I enjoyed much more the first 7/8 of this book. It felt like a safari through the mind of a character I had never known but immediately loved and trusted.
In an interview around the time of publication, Alameddine said something to the effect of “the problem, right now, is that we define who is necessary by society’s standards. A lawyer is more necessary than a garbage collector. A doctor more necessary than a bartender. But the truth is, what makes something necessary is how much commitment one has to the life they are living.” I find this a beautiful, and (forgive me) necessary, sentiment for our times.