Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `Dear child, some stories have no morals. Sometimes darkness and madness are simply that.', 10 Jan 2013
This review is from: Alif the Unseen (Hardcover)
In a place, known only as `the City' in an unnamed Emirate in the Gulf, lives a young hacker who goes by the name of `Alif' (the first letter of the Arabic alphabet). Alif provides technical services to bloggers in Egypt, pornographers in Saudi Arabia, and Islamic revolutionaries in Turkey by concealing their identities and hiding their locations from the authorities. Initially, Alif's greatest allegiance appears to be to the freedom of information.

`Alif was not an ideologue; as far as he was concerned, anyone who could pay for his protection was entitled to it.'

The City is a place of extremes: wealthy princes in silver-plated cars and neighbourhoods without running water; an inefficient mail service and sophisticated digital policing systems. And within this sprawling megacity, Alif needs to remain hidden - especially from the state. Alif's life is complicated: he is of mixed Arab-Indian ethnicity - which is more than enough to doom his relationship with an aristocratic woman. But when he ends up in possession of the `Alf Yeom' (The Thousand and One Days) which may (or may not) contain the secret to creating a quantum-bit-powered supercomputer, his life really becomes interesting, and so does his story.
Alif ends up on the run, and he (and we readers) ends up in the world of the jinn. Where there is internet access, and a need for technical assistance.

`It hummed with information, half-finished programs posted for feedback, jokes written in code - the electrical thoughts of isolated people.'

There are detours into matters of faith. One of the secondary characters, an imam who has been tortured by the state, provides a number of insights.
It's difficult to categorise `Alif the Unseen'. The novel contains many different elements: there are secret identities, there are stories containing knowledge, there is mysticism and romance. And it isn't just the djinns who occupy a parallel universe.

`Superstition is thriving. Pedantry is thriving. Sectarianism is thriving. Belief is dying put.'

I mostly enjoyed this novel although I struggled with some elements of the world Ms Wilson has created. `The Hand of God', as Alif's opponent, was truly villainous: but it's just a story... isn't it? This is Ms Wilson's first novel: I hope there will be more.

`Metaphors are dangerous.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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