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Book Review

August 16, 2012
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‘Alif the Unseen’


Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

Reviewed by Catherine Rihm

By G. Willow Wilson

Grove Press

July 2012

$25

440 p

Alif is a young, technologically savvy Arab-Indian, laying low and working from his bedroom in the duplex he grew up in. He is a “gray hat,” a hacker working under an assumed name to protect watched clients, “…pornographers, Islamists and activists,” from Middle Eastern state security surveillance and censorship.

Alif has secretly fallen in love with beautiful Intisar, but he is crushed to find that her aristocratic parents have selected another husband, a prince, for her. It is revealed that her finance is a man the gray hats call the Hand of God, the powerful and ruthless head of security for the state.

As the Hand breaks into Alif’s computer and state security pursues him, he goes on the run with Dina, the young neighbor woman he grew up next door to. They are accompanied by the Alf Yeom, an ancient copy of “The Thousand and One Days” — a secret book of the jinn — that Intisar stole his way. Alif comes to realize the mythological tales could be translated into dangerous computer code used to benefit the Hand and establish state control and power.

As Alif and Dina flee, they encounter wise characters who help them. As they fight against the Hand, they witness the rest of the city rise to revolution against the oppressive state. Wilson has created an original tale that moves from the realm of ancient Arab folklore to modern day technological evolution, considering Middle Eastern religion and spirituality along the way. An American convert to Islam herself, she thoughtfully portrays both the Eastern and Western cultures, bridging the gap between them. She presents an enchanting, adventurous thriller and love story, timely with its authoritative modern view of the Arab world and relevance to the Arab Spring, wholly entertaining and imaginative. An award-winning graphic novelist and author of the acclaimed memoir “The Butterfly Mosque,” Wilson proves also to be a talented writer of fiction. CV



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