This is a magnetic narrative which is wrapped around the love of an expat, Rosalie, and her Saudi husband, Abdullah. They meet as students, at a Texas University, and after they marry, Abdullah convinces Rosalie to return to his native country. She had been raised there, because her father had worked for an oil company, and needs little persuasion. The pull of the country was drawing her back and she was eager to go. Forgetting her hippy past and disregarding the lack of freedom for women, she reentered the Kingdom, making a valiant effort to live there and raise her family.
The author was also raised in Saudi Arabia, for the first 12 years of life, and she deftly shines a light on the culture, the beauty, the excesses of the royals, the oppression and the fanaticism of a government ruled dually by religion and the oil fields. It illumines the hatred for the infidels, fueled by not only the religion, but also by the extreme poverty and arrogance of the Americans, who treat them like second class citizens in their own country. The royals and those associated with the government are privileged while everyone else is in an underclass. The story shows how the ways of the old world mesh with the new, sometimes not very smoothly, sometimes causing irreparable tears in the fabric of relationships.
She exposes the threads of discontent in the poor and even the rich, the insecurities that live within the young boys that can turn them into terrorists, not even realizing the consequences of their reckless behavior. Lost and confused, they turn to the radical approach to Islam, worship their Imams and are too immature to realize the frightening implications of their behavior or the devastating consequences. They think no further than the moment and are simply not able to make rational decisions. These young rebels often observe the behavior of others, interpreting with the eye of the religious zealot, creating explanations that are misleading and overblown, which then leads them to radical retributive behavior that is not grounded in reality. Their solutions are often barbaric.
The book illustrates how the culture might encourage a misunderstood young man to commit heinous acts, in the name of his religion. It shines a light on both the privileged and underprivileged, offering explanations for how both are led down the path of radicalism by home life, greed, the political environment, deprivation, emotional neediness, and a need for structure and direction.
There were moments when the story seemed a trifle contrived and the events serendipitous, but despite this, the story is very engaging. About two thirds of the way through the book, the tension builds to a crescendo and the reader will feel real fear because the scene depicted is too close to the reality of today. We are all only too aware of the cruelty of which extremists are capable. She demonstrates how Bin Ladens might be born out of innocence and immaturity, encouraged by radical Imams who prey upon unsuspecting victims, unaware of the cost of what they might be called upon to do.
The characters are clearly defined and the author’s style is inviting. You know immediately that you will enjoy the book. Parssinen wisely uses her words to demonstrate the workings of the two worlds, the Saudi and the American, as they come into conflict with each other.
It is a wonderful book for a book club. The discussions on marriage, fidelity, women’s rights, counter cultures, religious freedom, democracy, family life, monogamy and freedom, to name a few, should be very entertaining and enlightening.