An Unnecessary Woman Summary & Study Guide

Rabih Alameddine
This Study Guide consists of approximately 62 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of An Unnecessary Woman.
This section contains 775 words
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An Unnecessary Woman Summary & Study Guide Description

An Unnecessary Woman Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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Grief, hope and humor all combine in this story told by 72-year-old Aaliya Saleh in the novel “An Unnecessary Woman” by Rabih Alameddine. In this snapshot of the introverted but well read woman living in Beirut, the capitol city of Lebanon, Aaliya shares with her reader her love for her home city as well as her fear of growing older. Through the course of the novel Aaliya struggles with grief as she remembers the death of her best friend, joy as she finishes a translating a book and despair when her life’s work is damaged by a water leak.

When the novel opens Aaliya is celebrating the completion of her translation of the novel “Austerlitz” by W.G. Sebald. She is surprised when she looks into her mirror and sees that her hair is blue. She blames the blue tint on her distraction paired with using too much of a shampoo advertised to help liven up her white hair. She believes the color will eventually wash out.

The following morning Aaliya is stressed when her brother comes to her door intending to drop off their mother to stay with Aaliya. She’d been estranged from her family for quite a while simply because she, the offspring of her mother’s first husband, was unnecessary to them. She didn’t want to meddle in their lives and wished for them not to meddle in hers. When Aaliya’s mother walks into the apartment and looks at her daughter she begins screaming. Fadia, who owns the building, orders them out. She is aware that since Aaliya’s husband divorced her Aaliya’s family has been after her to let them have the large apartment. Aaliya refuses to give it to them and Fadia refuses to force her tenant out. Aaliya is furthered stressed when the three other women who live in the building with her follow her into her apartment to try to comfort her after her family members left.

Feeling off balance by the events of the day Aaliya goes for a walk. As she walks around the neighborhood in which she has lived for 50 years she shares stories including her decision to arm herself with a gun and how she went about procuring the firearm. She tells of the record store where she bought records and taught herself to enjoy music. Aaliya also shares stories of the bookstore where she worked for 50 years. She returns home to find that Fadia has cooked a meal and left some in front of Aaliya’s door.

The next morning Aaliya faces the group of three women, whom she secretly refers to as the three witches, as they gather for coffee in order to thank Fadia for the meal. She turns down an offer to join them for coffee saying she has to go out. Aaliya goes to the National Museum believing she will be able to get herself back on center. The trip is disastrous as a group of Italian tourists along with two small boys keep Aaliya from being able to get lost in the art as she is usually able to do at the museum. She has to find a place to hide and cry before she can leave.

Almost unconsciously Aaliya walks to her mother’s apartment and asks to see her. She meets her great-niece Nancy for the first time. The two work together to give Aaliya’s mother a pedicure after the old lady tells them that her feet hurt. On the way home Aaliya is haunted by memories of Hannah, her only friend. Hannah committed suicide years before but Aaliya still grieves her death, blames herself and wishes she knew why Hannah decided to die.

The next morning is Aaliya’s worst. Her neighbors come to her door telling her a pipe has burst flooding the area of the maid’s room in each of the apartments. It is in this small bedroom that Aaliya had stored almost all of the copies of the 37 books she had translated into Arabic. The handwritten copies of the translations are all soaked but the women set to work helping Aaliya dry out the pages. As they talk the women persuade Aaliya to set aside her rules and break from the structured format of her work. Aaliya decides this means she can translate any writer she wishes to. She chooses two books as possibilities for her next project. Knowing her neighbor Marie-Thérèse is coming to invite her to lunch Aaliya decides she will translate one book if Marie-Thérèse knocks and the other if she rings the doorbell.

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