Fiction Alif Woodrow Omnivore

Published on September 10th, 2012


Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

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Blurb: He calls himself Alif – few people know his real name – a young man born in a Middle Eastern city that straddles the ancient and modern worlds. When Alif meets the aristocratic Intisar, he believes he has found love. But their relationship has no future – Intisar is promised to another man and her family’s honour must be satisfied. As a remembrance, Intisar sends the heartbroken Alif a mysterious book. Entitled The Thousand and One Days, Alif discovers that this parting gift is a door to another world – a world from a very different time, when old magic was in the ascendant and the djinn walked amongst us. With the book in his hands, Alif finds himself drawing attention – far too much attention – from both men and djinn. Thus begins an adventure that takes him through the crumbling streets of a once-beautiful city, to uncover the long-forgotten mysteries of the Unseen. (Corvus)

James Lovegrove, The Financial Times

“Wilson’s novel elegantly explores the clash between truth and fiction, secrecy and revelation. She shows us both the exotic Arabia of old and the energetic, striving Middle East of today, and suggests the possibility of a stable, egalitarian future arising from a fusion of the two. Marvellous.”

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Eric Brown, The Guardian

Alif the Unseen, while an exhilarating techno-thriller, is also far more than that. Wilson, an American convert to Islam, has created in this rich, literate novel a profound dialogue between tradition and modernity, belief and non-belief, fairy tale and urban reality.

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Pauls Toutonghi, The New York Times

For all its playfulness, Alif the Unseen is also at times unexpectedly moving, especially as it detours into questions of faith. 

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Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Ms. Wilson fills Alif the Unseen with an array of observations about contemporary culture: new questions of theology (if a sin is committed in virtual reality, is it still a sin?); fantasy literature and, most conspicuously, Western culture. At one point the conversation turns to Lawrence Durrell and the Alexandria Quartet, the question being if the novels are Eastern or Western literature. “There is a very simple test,” Vikram says. “Is it about bored, tired people having sex?” Yes, he is told. “Then it’s Western,” Vikram decrees.

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Rachel Apden, The Observer

What would happen if the veil between visible and invisible worlds started to fray? This is the premise of G Willow Wilson’s brilliant debut novel Alif the Unseen, which draws on Islamic theology, the hacking underworld, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, spy thrillers and the events of the Arab spring to weave an “urban fantasy” in which the everyday and the supernatural collide … a first novel that is witty, imaginative and unorthodox in all senses.

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David Langford, The Daily Telegraph

Charming and original.

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