Top positive review
35 people found this helpful
If you are visiting the UAE, this book is a MUST.
on 3 January 2001
This is the true account of a middle-class Western lady's extraordinary encounters with a UAE family. Patricia Holten is an American, married to a Cornish businessman. Her story starts in the early days of oil, when a Sheikh sends his two sons to England for their education, and she acts as their carer. The result is that Holton is given an unexpected opening into the private world of the Sheikh's family, back home in Abu Dhabi. Through many visits over many years, she builds a lasting relationship with the Sheikhs family, but what makes this account so unique is that much of what she learnt and observed came from the time she spent with the women.
Holten spent extensive periods living alongside the Sheikha and her extended family. She was with them at their home in Al Ain, in their desert camps, and latterly in their Abu Dhabi palaces. The care and sympathy with she recounts her experiences gives the reader a superb insight into a recent history which is, to many of us living here, little known and little understood. And while many of the old ways have died with the arrival of oil, it was suprising how often Holton's account shed light on some aspect of modern life which I had not fully understood.
This is a gentle book, with colourful and detailed descriptions of every day life. Having said that, the characters (slightly modified to protect their identity) do come alive, and the impact of the UAE's dramatic modernisation on their lives makes for a story-line which I found gripping.
Most impressive to me however, is the depth of learning that Holton's book offers. As someone who lives in the UAE I feel deeply interested in the lives of the veiled women I see around me: in the shops, emerging from gated homes, even at work; but so often the cultural norms prevent any meaningful friendship developing, and I am left wondering about their histories, their families, their beliefs and their traditions. This book has, more than anything else, offered me invaluable context for the way of living I see around me. Maybe I particularly enjoyed Holton's account because I am living here in the UAE. But in any case, anyone with an interest in the region, or in Arab cluture, or in the impact of oil in the modern world, will certainly learn a huge amount from this wondeful book.