Janet Maslin

In an unnamed emirate in the Persian Gulf there lives a young man with Harry Potter potential. He calls himself Alif, for the letter in the Arabic alphabet, but that’s not his real name. It’s the Internet moniker he uses for his work as a hacker, protecting his clients from censors and the secret police. Alif is uncannily good at this. He’s not a boy wizard like Harry, but he works magic just the same.

So does G. Willow Wilson, the graphic novelist who has dreamed up Alif and his amazing adventures. Ms. Wilson has not set out to copy J. K. Rowling’s books or anybody else’s; she has her own fertile imagination and fanciful narrative style. But as an American convert to Islam who divides her time between the United States and Egypt, she has an unusual ability to see the best of both worlds. In “Alif the Unseen” she spins her insights into an exuberant fable that has thrills, chills and — even more remarkably — universal appeal.

Alif is 23, and he’s got girl trouble. He is in love with an aristocrat named Intisar, though his mixed lineage is a problem. “Indian and Arab blood had merged pleasantly on his face, at least,” Ms. Wilson writes. But he would not pass muster with Intisar’s family, so he cannot win her. They are married only furtively, having signed “a stock marriage contract Alif found on a Web site that catered to Persian Gulf men seeking to cleanse the sins they planned to commit elsewhere.” That document is worth nothing once Intisar tells Alif that she is engaged to somebody else. [Read more…]