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Thoughts: Alif the Unseen and Reading Diversely

A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of reading Alif the Unseen by G. Woodrow Wilson who is the author of Ms. Marvel. It is YA bordering on adult fantasy novel set in a pseudo Middle Eastern state. There are different types of jinns and there is a tiny bit of magic in this book. The plot revolves around an Arab-Indian hacker named Alif who builds a computer hacking program to track the woman he loves. This program is captured by the tyrannical government and on top of that, his lover gives him a mysterious book for some unknown reason. Alif, his best friend Dina, and some other friends must figure out who is doing all this etc.

This book was unlike any book I’ve ever read and it got me thinking about reading diversely at least in terms of ethnic diversity. I’ve always been on the lookout for ethnically diverse books considering I’m an Asian American and I always knew that reading them is very important to media representation of different cultures. However, it never occurred to me how important reading diversely was until I read this book. It is a book devoid mostly of a Western perspective. Rarely do I ever read a book about the Middle East that is not rife with bias on terrorism or heavy on the more negative aspects of modern Middle Eastern culture. It’s refreshing to read a fantasy novel that just so happens to have diverse characters set in the Middle East.

This book talks a lot about Indian religion, religious texts,  politics, revolutions and gender roles wrapped in a thriller story. The characters act in a way that parallels the culture around them and it is interesting to see how it affects their daily lives. The characters act in ways that I haven’t really encountered in a book and it’s thought provoking on how culture and religion affect how you are perceived and how you act. Dina, Alif’s best friend, wears the niqab which is a type of head scarf. It’s eye opening reading about her experiences with her chosen religion and others have perceived her because of it even though I feel it is different than my own.

Reading diversely is putting yourself in the shoes of a person who is unlike you but at the same time appreciating the differences and I think appreciating the differences and knowing that they’re really not so different is the next step to becoming a tolerant society.

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