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G. Willow Wilson - 'the Butterfly Masjid' & 'alif The Unseen

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I've been reading her memoir of her conversion and life in Cairo from 2003 to 2008 or so. She tells the story of how her atheistic upbringing clashed with the need and call for something more in her life. Learning about Christianity and Judaism and unable to find a place within them, she became a Muslim and then went to Egypt to teach there.

 

The Butterfly Masjid tells of her hardships and sucesses, finding love and family and the pain of not being sure she'd ever be able to return to her homeland. There are parts that make you (well, at least me) and parts where you want to just say Mash'Allah. One reason I think this book speaks to me so strongly is that she is my age, and speaking from an American perspective that has a resonance with me.

 

Alif the Unseen is a fictional novel that just came out recently that was written before the toppling of Mubarak during the Arab Spring. It is a tale of intrigue, jinn, faith and even love. I couldn't put it down and devoured every word. While it is fiction, it feels almost like real life and you have to hold onto your seats.

 

Another aspect that shines in the book is her characterization. Alif starts out as a skeptical (some would say lazy) Muslim who is a hacker, protecting anyone's anonymity who pays. He is secretly in love with a rich girl yet his neighbor Dina has secret feelings for him. Dina is my favorite character honestly, a girl who chooses to wear niqab over her family's objections while possessing a strength and loyalty that seemingly knows no bounds. I don't want to ruin the story, but I will say that all of the characters have real growth and dimension. Definitely worth a read.

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I've been reading her memoir of her conversion and life in Cairo from 2003 to 2008 or so. She tells the story of how her atheistic upbringing clashed with the need and call for something more in her life. Learning about Christianity and Judaism and unable to find a place within them, she became a Muslim and then went to Egypt to teach there.

 

The Butterfly Masjid tells of her hardships and sucesses, finding love and family and the pain of not being sure she'd ever be able to return to her homeland. There are parts that make you (well, at least me) and parts where you want to just say Mash'Allah. One reason I think this book speaks to me so strongly is that she is my age, and speaking from an American perspective that has a resonance with me.

 

Alif the Unseen is a fictional novel that just came out recently that was written before the toppling of Mubarak during the Arab Spring. It is a tale of intrigue, jinn, faith and even love. I couldn't put it down and devoured every word. While it is fiction, it feels almost like real life and you have to hold onto your seats.

 

Another aspect that shines in the book is her characterization. Alif starts out as a skeptical (some would say lazy) Muslim who is a hacker, protecting anyone's anonymity who pays. He is secretly in love with a rich girl yet his neighbor Dina has secret feelings for him. Dina is my favorite character honestly, a girl who chooses to wear niqab over her family's objections while possessing a strength and loyalty that seemingly knows no bounds. I don't want to ruin the story, but I will say that all of the characters have real growth and dimension. Definitely worth a read.

 

I will look this up for the next read I have. Thank you for the recommendation!

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I am planning insha'Allah to go up to DC on the 16th, as she is signing her new book at a book store there and reading excerpts. I only wish I could actually get to ask her a few questions at that time, but I doubt I'll be able to, though meeting her will be a happy thing in my opinion.

 

She'll be at Busboys and Poets Bookstore, as will Wajahat Ali. Should be a nice night, if I can get up there.

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Here is a review:

 

A Thousand and One Bytes: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

 

posted by Aziz Poonawalla


alif.jpg

 


Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WilsonAllow me to admit upfront that author G. Willow Wilson is a dear friend, and so perhaps you may assume that my review of her astounding novel Alif the Unseen is biased. Instead, however, you should assume that I am as selective in the quality of my friends as the quality of my books, and therefore of course when these categories overlap (ie, a friend writes a book), it’s a double-endorsement of quality icon_smile.gif

 

But the simple truth is that Willow creates worlds. Her graphic novel Cairo and her comic series Air were just precursors to this work, setting the stage with concepts like the Undernile and the “lost country” of Narimar that deliberately straddle the line between mythology and the modern, firmly grounded in Islamic culture without recycling overused elements of Western fantasy. Even her memoir The Butterfly Masjid captured a vision of a real-world Cairo as unto another world, from the raw perspective of an American expat gone native without any orientalist condescension.

 

But Alif breaks new ground. There’s a reason it picked up a coveted review from the New York Times, and why in that review Willow is likened to J.K. Rowling, but I think a far better comparison is to Neil Gaiman. In a very real sense this is her American Gods. But the book also has a geek chic to it, which has a very Neal Stephenson vibe – there’s a celebration of the hacker-activist here that sets a programmer as a hero and a dictator as an enemy. So in another sense this book is Willow’s Snowcrash. What is so exhilarating about this book is the idea that there’s a relationship between computer code and mythological narratives, that both are just forms of stories that have power in the real world. From the prologue of the book, this relationship is made explicit, in an exchange between a man and a jinn:

What do you want? the creature whimpered. Why do you force me to tell you what I should not? These are not your stories. They are ours.

 

“They are yours, but you don’t understand them,” snapped Reza. “Only Adam was given true intellect, and only the banu adam have the power to call things by their right names. What you call the bird king and the hind and the stag–these are only symbols to disguise a hidden message, just as a poet may write a ghazal about a toothless lion to criticize a weak king. Hidden in your stories is the secret power of the unseen.”

 

The stories are their own message, said the thing, with something like a sigh. That’s the secret.

 

“I will assign each element of each story a number,” said Reza, ignoring this alarming pronouncement, “And in doing so determine their quantitative relationship to one another. The resulting code will allow me to replicate that quantitative relationship in other forms–metal, earth, flesh–and I will gain power over them–” He broke off. A breeze had stirred through the open window, and the scent of drying varnish wafted toward him. Reza thought of his wife.

 

You’ve lost something, said the creature shrewdly.

 

“It’s not your problem.”

 

No story or code or secret on earth can raise the dead.

 

“I don’t want raise the dead. I just want to know–I want–”

 

The thing listened. Its yellow eyes were fixed and unblinking. Reza remembered the herbal remedies, and the cupping, and the incense to clear the air, and the low terse words of the midwives as they moved about the bloody bed, pulling their veils over their mouths to speak to him as he stood by, useless and despairing.

 

“Control,” he said finally.

 

And thus in the hands of someone skilled in the Art, can be used to effect change, and achieve control. With the backdrop of the Arab Spring, this is a message that has real relevance; that authentic tradition is just as important as modern technology in shaping destiny, be it as an individual fighting for love or a nation fighting for freedom.

 

There’s a lot more to Alif than just a political metaphor, of course. It’s a tale of adventure and romance and it’s packed with gems and easter egg references to things like World of Warcraft and Douglas Hofstadter. There’s even a vampire, but not the sparkly brooding kind you’ve come to expect, but something much more.. primal. As Willow herself writes about the inspiration for the book, it came from a “wonderfully clarifying kind of rage” about how she was forced to communicate to her three primary audiences (comic book geeks, literary NPR types, and Muslims) in isolation, and the book manages to bridge those gaps. The result is a book anyone can pick up and from which everyone will take something different away.


This book deserves to be on the NYT bestseller list. Make it happen and get your copy now.

 


Read more: http://blog.beliefne...l#ixzz20bwEZS5X

 


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That review is a very good one. Since I am definitely going up to DC on Monday, insha'Allah I will be getting to meet her and I look forward to listening to what she has to say. I thought it interesting how the writer of Wicked (which in itself is masterful) gave her probably the highest praise he has ever given another author. I got three other people at the Barnes & Noble VCU Bookstore to read this the other day as we were sitting and talking. That's the wonder of the written word, and why I hope to one day bring my own stories to bear.

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Okay, I just got back from the event (thanks to traffic in Richmond it took me awhile). What can I say? It was outstanding. Not only was it an author signing and so forth, but it was a wonderful night with some comedy, poetry, a song from the creator of Altmuslim and so much more. I also got to spend almost twenty minutes with Willow talking while she signed my books (one for me and one for my friend and sister in Germany, Sara).

 

One thing that I knew already was she was very into geek culture, but I didn't know how deep. Everyone had a blast talking to her and I can honestly say, she's one of the nicest authors I've met (and I've met quite a few). I also got to mingle and talk with other Muslims at the event, which was a lot of fun, and I have new contacts for when I have my book ready to be published as well.

 

One thing that struck me tonight though was Willow's dedication. She has a 1 year baby girl and she is also 6 months pregnant with her second daughter and yet she was there the whole night, cracking jokes and just being a very nice person. We got into the discussion on whether it is a sin to eat make-believe pork in World of Warcraft, which is a hoot. :D

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Congratulations sister Nightingale. I can understand your excitement. :-D]]

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The other good news from tonight was that she took down my contact info and gave me hers, asking me to send her a copy of my manuscript of my story when I'm done. She said she'd do everything she could to help me as her Muslim sister to get published, which was really nice. Alhamdulillah.

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The other good news from tonight was that she took down my contact info and gave me hers, asking me to send her a copy of my manuscript of my story when I'm done. She said she'd do everything she could to help me as her Muslim sister to get published, which was really nice. Alhamdulillah.

 

This is so good. I mean it always feels great when I see unity amongst the Ummah. And may Allah help to bring many more good news to you

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