Alif, for those not familiar with Arabic, is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. It’s also the pseudonym for the hero of this story, a young Arab-Indian computer programmer/hacker. Alif is living in an unnamed middle eastern country where the internet is fiercely monitored by “The Hand,” a feared and mysterious governmental persona who would like nothing better than to catch Alif and shut him and his clients’ websites down. Alif, who has been getting by living in his mother’s home, finds himself in big trouble when he creates a remarkable new computer program to hide his online presence from the love of his life who has recently dumped him.
When the Hand gets a hold of the program and reverse engineers it to track him and other hackers down and his ex-girlfriend sends him an ancient book allegedly written by the legendary Jinn, Alif goes on the run. The Hand also wants the book; it may hold the key to a new technological era. Escaping with Alif is his longtime female neighbor and a motley assortment of other real and legendary characters. Their adventures take them from the mirage-like land of the Jinn to centuries old mosques to the seat of the country’s power in the midst of an Arab Spring-like uprising. Alif the Unseen is an intelligent adventure yarn full of charm, Middle East culture, religion, technology, and insight.
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. Recommended!
Back in April, around the time of the centennial sinking of the Titanic, a slim novel began making the rounds of the media circuit. In gripping and fluid prose, The Life Boat imagines what might have happened in a Titanic-like disaster if the survivors hadn’t been picked up. The novel takes place in 1914 and opens with survivor Grace in court being tried for an unspecified crime. At the time of the sinking a few months earlier, Grace was a new bride coming home to America to meet her inlaws for the first time. Her well-to-do husband secured Grace a spot in one of the last overcrowded lifeboats and then disappeared for good.
As the leaky, overcrowded boat drifts for 21 days, the passengers battle hunger and thirst, their memories, each other, and the elements. A sea-wise crewman keeps them alive in the beginning with his shrewd decisions, but as the days go by, his knowledge is increasingly questioned, especially after some passengers are forced out of the boat in order to protect the rest. It soon becomes clear (or does it?) that he has secrets of his own and has put the other survivors at risk to protect them. Grace tells the story of how she managed to survive in the lifeboat while also battling for her own future in court now that she’s been rescued and held accountable for her actions.
Rogan does an excellent job of capturing what 21 days would be like stranded in a lifeboat with strangers. Rife with keen observations on the nature of ambiguity, memory, strength and loss, this compelling book is well worth the read.
Bookmama is a writer, parent, and avid reader. She likes to think she has good taste in books, but she doesn’t always agree with the literary crowd. Her eleven-year-old son is even harder to please, and together they hope to provide occasional reviews of great books for both adults and kids.