I wrote a review of Alif the Unseen a year or two ago. Well, it wasn’t so much a review as a blog post about how delicious I thought the book was. So in honor of G. Willow Wilson’s upcoming visit to Ada’s, I reread Alif and I’ve come back with some thoughts that are a little more literary than “om nom nom”.
Interstitial adj.: relating to or situated in a small space that lies between things.
Liminal adj.: of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase or condition
Saying that interstitial space is a theme in Alif the Unseen is a like saying that Seattle is kinda into coffee. Just about everything in the novel is betwixt and between.
None of the main characters in Alif the Unseen fall into one socially acceptable category or another. Dinah is a young woman from an immigrant family who wears a veil, despite the fact that it’s an affectation of the higher classes, and is far more wise, resourceful and intelligent than society finds acceptable (or Alif will give her credit for). Alif is half Indian and half Arab, full of full-grown cleverness and childish assumptions and arrogance. Vikram and his sister are depicted as part human, part animal, and the convert is, well, a convert – a proper Arabic speaking Muslim woman who will always and forever be a foreigner.
The setting of the novel is interstitial as well, with characters constantly moving through or into the space between. Back and forth between the mundane world and the magical one, falling away from their normal lives and into outlaw hero-hood – oh, and they’re growing up, too. And then there’s the Internet. Alif lives half his life on the Net, the biggest liminal space created by humankind. Worlds are built, communities are formed, and cultures are shared across…what? Ones and zeroes, sparks on a wire, server clusters, human minds – all of these things none. It is a place that is effectively not a place, a space that is no space at all.
In the world Wilson creates in Alif the Unseen, nothing falls neatly into the boxes built for them. Much of the pain and suffering in Alif is caused when society or the state tries to shove people into those boxes anyway. Wilson’s characters, rather, push back, slip aside, and stay firmly between.
This review is written by Jen Power (@comradebunny). Jen is a networking fiend and blogger in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. She has always been a devourer of books. You can find her on http://comradebunny.wordpress.com and seattleinmemory.tumblr.com