My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions. You are prepared to accept the irrational, but not the transcendent.”
Alif the Unseen is not just one kind of novel. It starts out as cyber-thriller Neal Stephenson kind of novel and turns into a Neil Gaiman styled fantasia involving the world of djinn. But that’s just the plot. It’s multi-layered, with treatises on religion and politics. In fact, I would say the novel is as much a political allegory–a kind of magical version of the “Arab Spring” revolution–as it is a fantasy adventure. It’s a novel about liminality: between the West and the East, the seen and the unseen, religion and the supernatural, the sacred and the profane.
It’s a novel full of humor and has a rapid, quick-fire plot that never lags. But when it does slow down, there are moments of “wonder and awe” that take your breath away. My favorite sentence:
“As he slipped deeper into sleep, he heard her begin to sing: a soft, wordless cat-song of love gone and children grown, trilling and sad.”
Alif the Unseen is a rare novel that manages to work on the “brain-candy” level and on a deeper level.