Manual Alif the Unseen

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This is the premise of G Willow Wilson's brilliant debut novel Alif the Unseen, which draws on Islamic theology, the hacking underworld, Philip.
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He hates the State, which he views as corrupt and oppressive.

Alif The Unseen

He hacks and protects whoever pays him, whether they be Communists, Anarchists, or Islamists. He sort of just keeps up with his daily life, and complains about how hard it is to be him. Alif continues to lament his situation and how completely screwed he is.

"Alif the Unseen": Hacker meets Jinn |

The worst, of course, happens, and Alif is kidnapped by State security and taken to a prison at an undisclosed location for interogation, torture, and execution. Alif is broken down in prison, but when the opportunity comes and he escapes, he becomes changed. Through his actions, he inspires a riot in line with the rest of the Arab Spring. He begins a boy and ends a man. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

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A dystopian techno-thriller? An exemplar of Islamic mysticism, with ties to the work of the Sufi poets?

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Wilson seems to delight in establishing, then confounding, any expectations readers may have. He provides technical services to pornographers in Saudi Arabia, Islamic revolutionaries in Turkey and bloggers in Egypt, concealing their identities and hiding their locations from the authorities in Riyadh and Ankara and Cairo.

Within this megacity, Alif must hide from an authoritarian state that wants to hunt him down and do him harm. This might seem enough to drive a novel.


But Wilson adds several layers of complication. Alif has a doomed love affair with an aristocratic woman — a relationship made more difficult by his social status and his mixed Arab-Indian ethnicity. But at last he is rescued, and as he goes on the run, we are shuttled into the world of the jinn.

Alif is astonished to find Internet access in jinn-land. Shall I tell you what I discovered? I am not the state of my feet. I am not the dirt on my hands or the hygiene of my private parts. If I were these things, I would not have been at liberty to pray.