Alif the Unseen is a masterful debut novel, an enchanting, incredibly timely adventure tale worthy of Neil Gaiman. In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker protects watched groups from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble—until he falls in love with the wrong woman and unleashes a forbidden text thought to be written by the jinn.
As the book opens, Alif ’s computer has just been breached by the “Hand of God,” as the hackers call the state’s electronic security force, and he is scrambling to protect his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other vulnerable groups in autocratic states across the region. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and when it turns out the fiancé is the Hand, and the state security forces come after Alif with guns drawn, he must go underground, trying all the while to fight back against a piece of code he wrote to protect his lover but which the Hand is using to create the most sophisticated state surveillance the world has ever known. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, has fallen into his hands and may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death.
With shades of Neal Stephenson, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Wilson’s Alif the Unseen is a tour de force that will enchant readers— a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, religion, technology, and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner.
Save the date! G. Willow Wilson will be discussing and signing her book at our Colfax Avenue store on Thursday, July 19, 2012, at 7:30 pm.
Here's what our staff has to say about the book:
"When was the last time you read a book with a world so meticulously drawn and a story with characters so real, you didn't want it to end? Alif the Unseen is one of those books. As I found myself getting closer to the end, I started occupying myself with other things like video games and washing my floors because like a really good meal, I didn't want to leave the world G. Willow Wilson gave me to read.
To describe the book in three words: Hackers, Jinn, and Belief.
To use many more: Alif is a 21st century computer whiz living in The City (think Dubai, Cairo, and the like). Religious radicalism is on its way up, so freedoms are on their way down. And Alif, from his bedroom in an immigrants quarter of The City, hosts a multitude of questionable websites, but he hosts indiscriminately, across belief systems and political views. If the group pays him, he'll host 'em. No qualms about it.
However, Alif isn't just living in his bedroom. He's in love with an aristocratic girl; when she denies their secret marriage pact, he codes a program that renders his online presence invisible to her and sends a package to her via Dina, the girl next door. When his network is attacked by State Security, Alif finds himself without the electronics he defines himself by and through some twist of fate, the keeper of a book-- The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn. And oddly, the book renders him even more wanted by the head of State Security. Taking himself deeper underground than he believed possible, Alif befriends a jinn and learns there is more to the world than what he can code or touch.
Written by an American ex-patriot living in Cairo, Alif the Unseen (while it contains fantastical elements) gives the reader a keen view into the areas affected by the Arab Spring. Different levels of religious belief are presented seriously and respectfully. And Wilson draws a line in the sand between religion and spirituality very deftly.
Fans of Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, and the film 'Hackers' will love this trip through The City Seen and Unseen. There is humor, sections that require being read aloud, and my copy has plenty of bent corners marking lines to remember.
It's the most remarkable love story I've encountered since Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in 1957's 'An Affair to Remember'. No sex, less violence than 'The Hunger Games'--give it to anyone over the age of 13."
"Willow Wilson's debut novel is a magic carpet ride through the Arab spring, the cyber world of digital resistance, and the ancient tales that inform a culture and a religion. Having read this wonderful story, I feel like I have a better understanding of the various belief systems at work in the middle-east. From the cyber spark that ignites an uprising in an unnamed middle-eastern city, through the haphazard, death-defying adventures of a thoroughly mystified fellowship ? both human and Jinn, prince and pauper, believe and non-believer ? this novel reads like the best fantasy, wrapped up in a timely historical fiction. I loved Alif, our unwilling hero, and the unique set of circumstances that set him on the road to fame (if not fortune), understanding, and true love."
"I don't get hackers and all that crazy computer stuff, I don't generally care for fantasy and the sorts of mythical characters that are involved in it, and I generally steer clear of epic love stories. But Alif the Unseen has ALL of that, and more, and I LOVED it! I think you will too!"
Every now and then we encounter a new book that we’re so excited about we want to shout it from the rooftops, so we've created a special tag to distinguish it from the rest: TC V.I.B. (very impressive book)! That means it’s a true stand-out in a season of many excellent and compelling new books.