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Alif the Unseen Hardcover – 19 Jul 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press (19 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802120202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802120205
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.7 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,975,774 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Praise for "Alif the Unseen" [G. Willow Wilson] works magic. . . . Ms. Wilson has not set out to copy JK Rowling s books or anyone else s; she has her own fertile imagination and fanciful narrative style. But as an American convert to Islam, she has an unusual ability to see the best of both worlds. In "Alif the Unseen" she spins her insights into an exuberant fable that has thrills, chills andeven more remarkablyuniversal appeal. Janet Maslin, "The New York Times" G. Willow Wilson has a deft hand with myth and with magic, and the kind of smart, honest writing mind that knits together and bridges cultures and people. You should read what she writes. Neil Gaiman, author of "Stardust" and "American Gods" [A] Harry Potter-ish action-adventure romance [that] unfolds against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. . . . Improbably charming . . . A bookload of wizardry and glee. Janet Maslin, "The New York Times" "Books for Basking" summer reading list Driven by a hot ionic charge between higher math and Arabian myth, G. Willow Wilson conjures up a tale of literary enchantment, political change, and religious mystery. Open the first page and you will be forced to do its bidding: To read on. Gregory Maguire, author of "Wicked" and "Out of Oz" An intriguing mix of fantasy, romance and spirituality wrapped up in cyberthriller packaging. . . . Wilson s desert fantasy moves at the breakneck speed of a thriller through cityscapes, wilderness and ethereal realms as she skillfully laces mythology and modernity, spirituality and her own unique take on technological evolution. Rather than the time-worn ghost in the machine concept, Wilson creates a djinn in the machine fusion of magic and tech that blurs the line between the mythical and virtual, suggesting a brave new world in which mankind s oldest stories will bleed through more strongly than ever. . . . [Wilson] also boldly approaches larger issues such as religion, philosophy and the contrast between Eastern and Western culture, using fantasy as a lens through which to view reality. . . . Don t miss this one-of-a-kind story, both contemporary and as ancient as the Arabian sands. Jaclyn Fulwood, "Shelf Awareness "(online) A fantasy thriller that takes modern Islamic computer hackers fighting against State-based repression and entangles that with the fantastical Djinn-riddled world of "One Thousand and One Nights." . . . Here's a book for summer reading, like a novelization of one of Joss Whedon's best "Buffy" episodes crossed with a Pathe newsreel of the Arab Spring uprisings. It s a page-turner. Wayne Alan Brenner, "The Austin Chronicle" "Alif the Unseen" is a terrific metaphysical thriller, impossible to put down. The fantastical world Alif inhabitsat once recognizable and surreal, visible and invisibleis all the more fantastic for the meticulously detailed Koranic theology and Islamic mythology Wilson expertly reveals. A multicultural "Harry Potter" for the digital age. Hooman Majd, author of "The Ayatollahs Democracy" and "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" A ferocious new voice in fiction. . . . As with every comic-book artist turned author, the critical question is this: Can her talent for vivid characterization translate from image into text? The answer, in Wilson s case, is a resounding yes. . . . There is no question that "Alif the Unseen" is one of those rare events in the history of publishing, when an ancient pattern of storytelling ("The Arabian Nights") is grafted onto an up-to-the-minute world crisis. This synthesis has great spiritual authority, thanks to the vision of G. Willow Wilson. Michael Alec Rose, "BookPage" A book of startling beauty and power. Holly Black, author of "The Spiderwick Chronicles" "Alif the Unseen" . . . is a breezy yet thought-provoking blend of techno-thriller and urban fantasy, set in an unnamed Arab emirate. It will whisk you away to the new vistas of wonder and wisdom. . . .[An] excellent modern fairytale. . . . The prose of "Alif the Unseen" is smart and agile; romance and adventure flow easily between Deep Thoughts. . . . [Wilson] surpasses the early work of Stephenson and Gaiman, with whom comparisons have already been made. . . . "Alif the Unseen" will find many fans in both West and East. They will appreciate it for being just the fine story it is and as a seed for potent ideas yet to come. io9 (online) An ambitious, well-told, and wonderful story. "Alif the Unseen" is one of those novels that has you rushing to find what else the author has written, and eagerly anticipating what she'll do next. Matt Ruff, author of "Fool on the Hill" and "The Mirage" I have the utmost respect for G. Willow Wilson s writing. . . . "Alif the Unseen" is set in the Arab Spring, and offers a refreshingly modern view on the Arab world. With nods to "The Thousand and One Nights," Wilson has created a modern classic that dares explore themes of technology, spirituality, and religion. Largehearted Boy (online) A terrifically fun novel about the connections between literature and coding, magic and Islam, and the identities we create for ourselves. Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress (online) One of the most compelling narratives you'll read this year, Alif offers masterful insight into contemporary Middle Eastern societies whose ongoing transformations are as unexpected and profound as those in our own. It is also a powerful reminder of how far fantasy has come since Tolkien. Jack Womack, author of "Random Acts of Senseless Violence" [Wilson] ushers the energy of the Arab Spring into urban fantasy while unleashing jinns into the digital age. . . . As timely and thoughtful as it is edgy and exciting, this dervish of a novel wraps modern tendrils around ancient roots, spanning the gulf between ones and zeros, haves and have-nots, and seen and unseen worlds. Ian Chipman, "Booklist" (starred review) A "Golden Compass" for the Arab Spring. Steven Hall, author of "The Raw Shark Texts" Imaginative storytelling . . . Wilson skillfully weaves a story linking modern-day technologies and computer languages to the folklore and religion of the Middle East. For readers ready for adventure and looking for original storytelling, this excellent novel supersedes genres as easily as its characters jump from one reality to another. "Library Journal" (starred review) Willow Wilson is an awesome talent. She made her own genre and rules over it. Magical, cinematic, pure storytelling. It's nothing like anything. A brilliant fiction debut. Michael Muhammad Knight, author of "The Taqwacores" [An] intriguing, colorful first novel. . . . Wilson provocatively juxtaposes ancient Arab lore and equally esoteric computer theory, highlighting the many facets of the East-West conflict. "Publishers Weekly""

About the Author

G. Willow Wilson was born in New Jersey in 1982. After graduating with a degree in History and coursework in Arabic language and literature, she moved to Cairo, where she became a contributor to the Egyptian opposition weekly Cairo Magazine until it closed in 2005. She has written for politics and culture blogs across the political spectrum, and has previously written a graphic novel, Cairo, illustrated by M. K. Perker, and a series of comics based on her own experiences, for D.C. Comics. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Alif the Unseen is set in an unspecified Arab Emirate. The novel starts with a supernatural introduction to a book, the Alf Yeom (The Thousand and One Days), dictated by a captive Djinn. It then moves to present day and follows the life of Alif, a computer hacker and programmer, at war with the ruling Emir and his apparatus of state, together with two young women, Intisar and Dina, who feature in his life. I won't detail the entire plot, but it ranges from a supernaturnal fantasy, taking in a lot of IT/technobabble and Arab Spring politics. It is difficult to catergorise the novel in a particular genre because it seems such a mishmash of ideas. He reads like the Arabian Nights meets Harry Potter, The Matrix, and a socio-political Arab novel, with a bit of Star Wars thrown in places. Some will no doubt be enchanted by the supernaturnal storyline, but I found it a little bit of a mess.
The author writes quite well and I enjoyed the beginning, but it becomes a bit too weird and fantastical for me at the end. The basic idea about the unseen world of The Djinn is intruiging, and takes you into some of the background of the Islamic faith, which was unknown to me and interesting. However for me the story just doesn't quite work. The novel starts very promisingly and then the plot becomes a bit clunky and sags into a bit of a mess, which is a pity. I didn't find the lead males characters very convincing either. I think it may have been more effective if the author had written either a pure fantasy novel, or a political novel with the information technology themes. Trying to weld them together into a single plot just created a molten mess, similar to Alif's computer melted-down hard drive.
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By D. Harris TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a magnificent debut novel by G Willow Wilson. It is, though, difficult to pigeonhole. It is a fairy story, but also a story of revolution, a cyberthriller, and a love story.

The Alif of the title (not his real name) is a hacker living in a nameless but authoritarian city state on the Arabian Gulf. Alif hires his skills to anyone who will pay, but especially to political and religious rebels across the Middle East. However, he and his comrades are steadily being hunted down by the Hand, the almost godlike tool of State security. And Alif's love life is in turmoil as his girlfriend is destined to marry someone else.

Though a little slow to take off, the story really gets going when Alif acquires an ancient book, the Alf Yeom or Thousand and One Days. Everyone seems to want this book, including the Hand, who wants to use it to devise new coding methods to trap the rebels. But fairytale books are perilous and the danger of reading them is that you write yourself into the story.

In rollercoaster action Alif goes on the run and becomes involved with the djinn, mercurial and magical fairylike beings who are, like him, "unseen" by the mundane world. Can he tell what is real and trustworthy from what is demonic and deceitful?

This is an exciting story which brings to life a magical setting very different from the more typical European-flavoured background of much fantasy, weaving in a topical background of the Arab Spring and creating some wonderful incongruities, including an efreet (a sort of spirit) which employs Alif to fix its anti-virus, a pious vampire and an American convert whose bad Arabic is rendered as somewhat "`Allo, `allo" style English.

It's something rather different, very fresh and immense fun.

I'm grateful to the publisher for sending me an advance copy of this book.
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Format: Hardcover
A great premise with some terrific elements grievously undermined by the author's unwillingness to grasp the thorny nettle of fantasy she has introduced.

Alif is our downtown man (boy), a hacker in love (lust) with an uptown girl. The setting is an unnamed Arab emirate, with a repressive regime of rich princes, consumerism and oil. When the uptown girl's father promises her to an older government official, who turns out to be the Hand, head of digital security, Alif comes in to possession of 1001 Days, the Djinn equivalent of 1001 Nights. This leads us into the spirit - and spiritual - realm for a time, before we are brought back to the Arab Spring, with torture, revolution and a hanging.

The book is strong when handling its real world elements and contains some really funny moments, including a Djinn quoting Star Wars. Our female author shows an uncanny ability to enter the mind of a sexually inexperienced manboy, and the book also contains a very positive religious figure, a scarcity in any type of fiction these days.

However the promised fantasy element is weak and unsatisfying, feeling like something the author has used to differentiate her book rather than something she is passionate about. There is no exploration of the Djinn - not their powers, their hierarchy, nor their motivations (it remains a mystery to me why they go above and beyond for Alif throughout the novel) and whilst Wilson mentions that these figures exist within the Koran, she does not expand on that. There are a couple of beautifully crafted 'tales' from the 1001 Days presented in the book and as a big fan of 1001 Nights, I would have liked to see far more of these.
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