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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Ruins of Us
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2012
The Ruins of Us hits the ground running. Rosalie, an American woman married to a Saudi man, Abdullah, is shopping for a gift for her daughter when the shop-keeper casually asks if she enjoyed the anniversary gift her husband bought recently. Knowing that the gift was not for her, it doesn't take Rosalie long to find out that her husband has secretly taken a second wife, Isra. The after-shocks of this revelation are the real meat of the story as everyone in the family is affected. Rosalie must decide what to do whilst Abdullah hides behind the shield of tradition. Their daughter feels oppressed by the contradiction between her upbringing and the rigid rules for Saudi women but it is their son, Faisal, who is holding a deep resentment against his mother and her American-ness. As he becomes further drawn into extremist activity, events start to spin out of control.

The Ruins of Us is an impressive novel that straddled several genres comfortably. Different chapters in the book are told from the different perspectives of each of the main characters and Parssinen managed to make each voice distinct. I was particularly drawn to the story of Faisal as he became radicalised and this remained undetected by his family. Parssinen did a fantastic job of showing how bored, wealthy young men are often easy targets for extremists- in the news here it's not unusual to hear of young men from moderate, successful families ending up in terrorist training camps abroad, and I felt that this part of the story showed real insight. Faisal's guilt at being half-American was easily manipulated and used against him as he was desperate to become more Saudi and more Muslim. As his family struggled to deal with their own issues, no one noticed what was happening to him as he started to idealise poverty and suffering and rebel against his wealthy upbringing.

Parssinen also successfully showed the emotions that each family member went through as they came to terms with Abdullah taking a second wife. I felt for Rosalie, even if I couldn't understand her choices. Having grown up on an oil reserve in Saudi Arabia, she was as much in love with the country as she was with Abdullah. There was also some good examination about what it means to truly belong somewhere, and to be caught between two very different cultures.

One criticism I will make is that I wanted to hear more from Rosalie and Abdullah's daughter, Mariam. Whereas Faisal was rebelling by becoming more extremist, Mariam was busy fighting the strict rules for women in Saudi Arabia by decorating her abaya (outer covering worn by Saudi women) and writing an anonymous blog. These issues about life for women in Saudi Arabia were just touched upon through the characters of Mariam and Rosalie and I would have liked to see some more examination. But this is just a minor criticism - I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will look out for more by the author in the future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I wasn't sure how I would re-act to this novel but it was an amazing insight into Saudi Arabian culture from an author who had first hand knowledge. The fact that Keija Parssinen had experienced the two different cultures of both America and Saudi Arabia meant that we were treated to a genuine appraisal of how different life is in the Middle East. The question is whether an American woman who goes to live in Saudi Arabia can adapt to her Saudi husband's lifestyle and whether their children will be affected by any difficulties that may arise between their parents, due to the different cultures? A brilliant first novel.
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A family novel which takes an unexpected turn towards the end, 'The Ruins of Us' is set in Saudi Arabia and begins with the American wife of a wealthy Saudi discovering her husband has secretly married a second wife. The novel focuses on the aftermath of this act of betrayal, particularly the effect on the couple's disaffected teenage son, and on their relationship with their old university friend, an American expatriate working for their company. For the most part it is a domestic saga, but in the last quarter things become a bit more dramatic and interesting. It touches on topics of inter-faith marriage and the cultural difference between America and the strict religious regime of Saudi Arabia, and on the clash between modernity and tradition in the relatively recently wealthy Arab nation. However I felt the novel only really scratched the surface of these issues, preferring to show more of the personal and emotional feelings of the characters. In some ways the author missed a few opportunities to get really under the skin of some of the topics addressed.

It is a good idea for a story, mostly well executed, with a decent plot and the characters are believable although not entirely loveable. It does lack a bit of grit and emotional punch, although the finale is more powerful than the first three quarters lead you to believe. It is interesting to read about life in modern Saudi Arabia, and the author does a good job of conjuring up the surroundings and the culture of that country. I have found few novels set in Saudi, and I liked that this one gave what I felt was a reasonably balanced view of life there. Despite the very restrictive society - which is clearly shown - the characters mostly love their home and want to remain there. The pace is a bit too slow at times, particularly in the early sections, although it never reaches the point of actually dragging.

For a first novel, it's pretty accomplished and I'd certainly read another book by this author. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the Middle East, inter-faith/inter-race marriage, expatriate life in the region, Islam, or the domestic impact of polygamy. It would be enjoyed by readers who like the novels of Leila Aboulela or Tahmina Anam, although it isn't quite in the same league as Aboulela's books. Overall, an impressive first effort and I'm sure we can expect better to come yet from Parsinnen.
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on 8 October 2014
An insight into life for men and women in Saudi Arabia and the pressures put onto families from mixed cultures. It showed how easily young people could be influenced to perform extreme acts as well as the problems faced by the son of getting out of the situation he put himself into. Also the lack of communication between the members of the family was highlighted.
A very topical book.
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on 31 August 2014
Beautiful and thought provoking, moving and inspiring. Captures how life is complicated, hard, tough, rough and ugly but all the while beautiful and priceless. Religion just another name for love, as we all, deep down, know it to be.
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on 5 October 2013
Interesting read .offering different ways in which our cultures are so diverse and how tolerance can give us an insight of how to recognise and respect each others cultures in it's diversity.
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on 10 January 2015
Really loved this book !
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 October 2012
This is a brilliant first novel from a real wordsmith. The storyline is developed quickly and the personalities of all characters become evident from dialogue without reams of descriptive. All in all this is an enjoyable read that truly presents issues of cultural differences without prejudice.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2013
enjoyed reading this book an unusual setting with convincing characters very well written would read more books from this author!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2013
Loved this book. Have read several books set in Saudi Arabia recently and this was one of the best, Would recommend.
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