Hiding under the handle of Alif, a young man fights back against the government censorship and violence via computer in an unnamed Middle Eastern city. When his lover leaves him to enter into the marriage her family has arranged for her, Alif is thrown into chaos. Suddenly, the government has found him, and he’s on the run with his neighbor and childhood friend, Dina, and an ancient book that leads them both into the world of the unseen jinn.
Islam, Middle Eastern mythology, terrorism, censorship, computer hacking, love, and multiculturalism all collide in this book. On the one hand, it’s something that I’ve read a lot of over the last few years, in terms of it being a contemporary fantasy. On the other hand, it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, incorporating two very disparate elements (ancient mythology and ultra-modern computer technology) in a mind-boggling way. On top of that, the book worked in all different timbres of religious fervor, class comparisons, racial discrimination, the downward spiral that follows an uprising, and more. Wilson took the story in ways that I didn’t even come close to expecting, and I was riveted throughout the entire book.
At the same time, there were things that I didn’t like. These basically boiled down to two things. First, some of the computer technology seemed stretched. Perhaps this is just because my husband is a software developer and I’ve heard/learned a lot of computer stuff over the years, but it was difficult to suspend my disbelief in some places. Not about the jinn, no, just about the computers. Which is kinda ironic, now that I think about it. The second thing was a little more important: I didn’t really like Alif very much. Now, to be fair, I don’t think he’s supposed to be an entirely sympathetic character. He does a lot of really nasty and/or stupid things, and he does grow as a person throughout the book. I was never able to get fully on board with him, though, and that lessened my enjoyment a bit, since he’s the narrator.
Still, both of those things were relatively minor, and I’d recommend the book in spite of them. There are so few books like this out there, featuring positive Muslim characters and non-Western mythologies and three-dimensional characters from a part of the world that Americans, at least, tend to vilify. I’m happy to have come across it.