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Alif the Unseen - Through Ch. 10

Alif the Unseen
Discussing through Chapter 10

Alif the Unseen

No spoilers beyond Chapter 10 in this post!
If someone forgets and posts a spoiler, the comment will be screened with a reminder note.
Feel free to repost your comment without the spoilers in there!  :)

Reminder of where we are in the story:
Vikram brings Alif to meet "the convert", an American woman who has been studying in The City and has converted to become a muslim. She suspects that Alif's copy of Alf Yeom is not the original but brings Alif with her to the university lab so they can test the resins used to preserve the book and its pages. They learn that the book is very old, making this the oldest copy in the world.

Alif writes to Intisar while he's at the computer lab and requests a meeting so he can ask for some information about why she gave him the book.

Vikram brings the convert and Alif to the Immovable Alley to confirm the identity of the book. They learn that their research thus far is correct and that this copy of Alf Yeom is one of the four original copies.

Afterward, Alif goes to meet Intisar but he is instead met by men from the State. He escapes into a mosque where he is able to hide out for a while. Dina, the convert, and Vikram join him there overnight. In the morning, Intisar comes to the door and it is revealed that the statesmen are outside and it was supposed to be Intisar's job to lead Alif out.

Alif goes back inside, the doors are barred, and Vikram has a revelation of what the Hand wants with the book - he believes he can use Alf Yeom to build a computer. Alif sets to work teaching Sheikh Bilal's old computer how to "think" in new ways, and he manages to infiltrate the State's systems and also fight the Hand on a digital battlefield. He comes out as the victor.

In the real world however, Alif is still trapped in the mosque. Vikram takes the convert and Dina with him to the empty quarter, which he warns will probably kill him. Meanwhile, Alif gives himself up and this section ends with him getting a black bag over his head as he is taken away by the State.

Ideas for discussion:
1) What did you think about this section of the book? How are you liking it so far now that the story has gotten rolling?

2) Intisar's betrayal of Alif is revealed in the final chapter of this section. What do you think of her as a character? Do you think Alif had a different perspective of their relationship than she did, or do you think that she was forced to change due to her betrothal to the Hand? Who do you think her loyalties lie with, if anyone?

3) What did you think about Alif infiltrating the State's computers and hacking their data?

4) Things aren't looking good for Alif at the end of this section - how do you think things will turn out?

Next Discussion:
Monday, September 15th
Full Discussion


1) I'm liking the book more right now - it still hasn't really grabbed me but hopefully that will happen at some point!

2) Intisar is a weird character and I can't decide how we are supposed to feel about her. In some ways she feels like more of a plot device than a character. We don't know very much about her motivations and it's hard to tell how she has really felt about Alif. And it seems like she's in a really impossible situation right now.

3) This section was so so so weird, I felt like I was reading something out of Tron

4) Of course Alif will make it out but I am not sure yet if it could be Jinn that help him escape or something else.
1) I'm actually really enjoying it now. I like Alif a little bit more now, and I really enjoyed his discussion with the Shiekh in the mosque, and finding out the old man's point of view isn't much different than his.

2) I agree that I'm not sure what we're supposed to make of Intisar's character. I kind of think we're supposed to think badly of her, because she's used to being rich and she was 'slumming it' with Alif, but I can't really fault her for taking care of herself in a society that devalues women. I think ultimately, Intisar's loyalties lie with herself. I think she may have loved Alif at one time but when faced with the reality of having no power over her own fate and being at the whims of her father and future husband, she accepted that.

3) I actually really enjoyed this bit. I know it's not realistic in the slightest and it read like something out of a video game but it was fun to read and an interesting way to describe hacking.

4) I suspect he's going to come face to face with his nemesis, The Hand, at some point soon, maybe while he's in custody. I think he's either going to come up with something clever to get out or else one of the jinn is going to help him.
Oooh, I wish I'd noticed we were reading this (life has been a bit crazier than usual lately). I read it when it came out and liked it. I'd've re-read it.

As I recall I liked Willow Wilson's style a lot, though I was a bit disappointed in the fluffiness of the tale. Having read her autobiography and knowing she and her Egyptian husband are basically in exile since the Arab Spring I wanted more politics or something. A mythic liberation story.

January 2015


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