Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson


“When Alif comes into possession of a mysterious book, He discovers a door into another world”

Star Rating: 4/5

At first glance this book sounded like a Middle Eastern version of Harry Potter travelling to Narnia, fighting giant sand snakes and looking for an Indiana Jones sacred relic. To some extents it is exactly that.

It begins by introducing Alif a modern day computer hacker, concealing the identity of his numerous clients. His clientele ranges from pornographers in Saudi Arabia to your average blogger in Egypt.  Being of a half Indian heritage, which considered him as a lower class compared to his full Arab blooded inhabitants, Alif gave his protection to anyone who could afford to pay for it.

Alongside this technological battle with the government, a more cultural and spiritual journey is being explored. Alif is struggling between the lines in district, which separate rich from poor, and also him for his beloved.  In spite of their separation he sends her a token of their first night, the blood stained sheets.  In response she sends him the “Alf Yeom”, a historical book written hundreds of years ago by those of the unseen (Jinn).

The author seems to present two contrasting concepts, a modern computer generation and historic culture, in a very harmonious way.  I loved how Wilson portrayed the beauty of the veil and the mystery it held when Alif was trying to figure out the expressions and thoughts of his female counterparts. Wilson also inspires very thought provoking insights which I cant help but share , for example:

But you banu Adam are always messing with delicate things and transgressing boundaries”. Through her writing I feel she is challenging the problems with society, in particular here how mankind is always messing with boundaries in relation to the world of the seen and unseen.”

Wilson’s writing is also very influenced by Islamic context and history. One of my personal favourite references is when she distinguishes between the Arabic and English meaning of “Atom”. An argument presented by a American convert discusses how a word form the Quran translates into “atom” in English, even though there was no such thing as atoms in the 6th century. So in Arabic this word means the smallest thing in the world but in English this would change upon discovery of something smaller. Here she cleverly showcases the beauty and the miracles created by the Quran in such a simple format.

Overall it was a very well written book focusing on a lot of different worlds (literally) and combining them beautifully with the help of just one book.


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