Lebanese-American author Rabih Alameddine’s fourth novel, An Unnecessary Woman, is on the ten-book longlist for the US’s National Book Award (NBA):
Alameddine’s novel looks at the world through the eyes of Aaliya, an aging Beiruti translator who has lived through the country’s civil war and, at all times, taken solace in her books.
It’s a comico-romantic book set in large part during the country’s civil war. The book doesn’t interrogate the violence itself, but instead uses it largely as a backdrop, creating an “international literary zone” inside Aaliya’s apartment.
There are beautiful moments in Alameddine’s most recent novel — moments when insanity, war, and loneliness intersect. For instance, a scene where Aaliya barters sex with a former bookstore employee for a gun, and he ends up popping the blackheads on her back, which she seems to quite enjoy. Twisted, touching, and funny. Other aspects of the book are less successful, as Robyn Creswell discusses in his review.
Alameddine’s novel isn’t the only shortlisted book set in a majority-Arab country. Also on this year’s NBA longlist is the popular “embedded” novel by Phil Klay, Redeployment, which sets its stories between Anbar, Iraq and the U.S.
The others on the longlist are Molly Antopol’s The UnAmericans, John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck & Other Stories, Richard Powers’s Orfeo, Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, and Jane Smiley’s Some Luck.
This year’s NBA fiction judges are Geraldine Brooks, Sheryl Cotleur, Michael Gorra, Adam Johnson, and Lily Tuck. The finalists are set to be announced on October 15.
You can follow Alameddine on Twitter: @rabihalameddine