By G. Willow Wilson
Grove Press, $25.00, 320 pages
Alif nominally lives in an unnamed emirate in the Middle East, but he pledges his true affiliation to the community of hackers who cache their ideas in the Cloud and correspond almost exclusively via the Internet. Alif’s job is to digitally protect his clients from state surveillance, which he does well until his lover jilts him for an arranged marriage and tells him that she never wants to see him again. In childish retaliation, he writes a program that profiles her computer use and makes it impossible for her to ever find him electronically. This ingenious program draws the attention of the state’s security force, nicknamed “The Hand of God,” and endangers the hacker community. When his former lover sends him a book titled The Thousand and One Days, Alif draws the attention of the jinn as well, and he finds himself running for his life.
“‘…I think I am not mistaken when I say that something fundamental has changed about the world in which we live. We have reached a state of constant reinvention. Revolutions have moved off the battlefield and on to home computers.’”
A deft combination of the digital and the mystical, Alif the Unseenasks questions about the evolution of religion and of the totalitarian state in the modern age. What impact do computers have on religion? What does it mean for a state to be free? What does revolution look like? Profound and entertaining, the novel is a page-turner.
Reviewed by Tammy McCartney