Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In the Kingdom of Men

I can't remember where I first heard of this book, but I have to say I was pretty disappointed. I usually love books about people who are experiencing a new society and the way it effects them. In a well-researched novel, I learn a lot about places that I've never been or sometimes learn new things about places I have. Either way, as someone who loves to travel and whose parents were expats for most of their careers, I can usually relate to these kinds of characters.

That was not the case with this book.  Gin Mitchell is a shy girl from Oklahoma who had a rough upbringing due to various family tragedies, and ends up marrying a guy from her high school who takes a job with an oil company and they get shipped off to Saudi Arabia.

I felt like her back story was a bit rushed to get to the meat of the story, but also most of it was unnecessary.  I think the important bits could have been told in flashbacks or other ways to show her character development, as it got pretty repetitive.

I don't know if the author ever actually lived in Saudi Arabia, but somehow it doesn't seem like it.  Even though I never have been to the Middle East some parts seemed implausible.  (Sidenote - In the 1990s my parents were slated to be moved to Riyadh, and for the only time in my Dad's career, my Mom refused, so they ended up going to the Philippines instead).

Gin is still shy and uncomfortable in her new foreign surroundings.  Her husband works on an oil rig and is often gone.  Gin forms a close relationship with her houseboy (closer than I felt was plausible).  She ends up being befriended by one of the other oil company wives.  Ruthie takes her under her wing, and introduces her around to the other members of the gated community they live in, and also takes her outside the walls - some adventures more exciting/risky than others. 

Gin starts writing for the American newspaper and then starts to take an interest in photography, taking pictures that in most cases can never be printed due to censors.  Gin's husband Mason was brought to Saudi Arabia to replace a man who left fairly abruptly and while their departure is questioned early on, it is only explained at the very end.  Really, most of the action in this book is in the last 50 pages, the beginning is mostly character development.  All of this makes for a choppy story.

I read a few reviews of this after I finished it, a couple that billed it as Mad Men goes to Saudi Arabia.  I know Mad Men is extremely popular (I have only seen a couple of episodes and didn't get sucked in), but I don't think this is an accurate representation - aside from a fair amount of alcohol consumption (but that's as much a part of the expat society as it is the 1960s).

Bottom line - skip this book. 

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