G. Willow Wilson’s memoir, Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam (2010), chronicled her conversion to Islam and her move from America to Cairo. What she wasn’t able to include was what she saw as a growing movement online, “emerging digital history” taking place on social media. Many people were still questioning whether the Internet would have a true political impact on the Middle East.
“It was a tough sell at the time, so none of that was included in the memoir,” says Wilson. “But I had made friends and met colorful characters in the digital Muslim community and I knew I had to do something with all that.”
The result is Alif the Unseen, a blend of urban fantasy and cyberpunk with echoes of a very real-life revolution. Alif is an Arab-Indian hacker who protects people from ominous electronic security sweeps in an unnamed Middle Eastern state. When he falls in love with the wrong girl, he’s drawn into an underground where he discovers The Thousand and One Days, a secret book written by the jinn. Wilson has previously written comics for DC and Marvel, and now her novel is drawing comparisons to Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman as well as interest from international publishers.
Amy Hundley, Grove senior editor and rights director, bought the novel via Warren Frasier at John Hawkins & Associates, and watched the Arab Spring emerge while editing the book. “It seemed incredibly prescient as we started to work on it,” she says.