Archive for May, 2012

Book Review ~ The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen

May 28th, 2012 4 comments

In the opening scene of Keija Parssinen’s novel, The Ruins of Us, we meet Rosalie, a red-headed Texan who has been living in Saudi Arabia for more than two decades. In these first pages, Rosalie discovers that her Saudi husband of 28 years has taken a second wife.

Later, we meet Rosalie’s husband Abdullah, a man who keeps secrets, the biggest of all: his second wife of two years lives in a villa down the street. Abdullah explains to a friend why he’s grown apart from his wife Rosalie: she has become “too Saudi” for him. If he wanted a Saudi wife, he would have married one.

At the center of the story is the Al-Baylani villa, grand and garish, located in a neighborhood called The Diamond Mile, where Rosalie and Abdullah host vast family meals on Friday.  The home may look impressive, but inside is a family collapsing. At one point Rosalie says, “I’m disintegrating in that house.”

The solution to Rosalie’s problem is not simple. She has transformed herself to fit into life in Saudi Arabia—“The Kingdom,” as it’s called. Rosalie has so entangled herself into Saudi life that returning to the US presents its own challenges: she has no professional skills and she has even forgotten how to drive. Meanwhile, a Saudi divorce ultimately means a mother’s loss of her children.

And then there’s the teenage son Faisal, who has his own set of problems, less captivating than Rosalie’s, but still compelling. Faisal is a young man who copes with his bicultural background by rejecting one side of his identity (American) and embracing the other (Saudi). His confusion and self-hatred leads to new, bigger problems for himself and for his family.

The novel has four plot lines, some more convincing than others. My favorite chapters are about Rosalie. I would have been content if the book were entirely about her—this American who speaks fluent Arabic, who does daily yoga practice, who dons all the trappings of a Saudi wife but who slips into her Texas dialect whenever she’s upset.

The Ruins of Us is a story of not only one lovers’ triangle, but two—overlapping and intersecting, set against the dusty, grim backdrop of Saudi Arabia. The story revolves around the themes of cross-cultural marriage, expatriate life, betrayal, polygamy, religious extremism, midlife dissatisfaction, and cultural identity.

Many books have been set in Saudi featuring the same clichéd images, and Ruins of Us has some of that, too. Yes, it would be easy to criticize Ruins of Us in this regard, declaring this scene as unbelievable or that character as stereotypical. However, to do so would miss the point. This is a worthwhile novel, a new take on an old setting—with authentic details throughout. In the end, it’s a story about a cross-cultural family falling apart and trying to come back together.

Question: Have you read The Ruins of Us? What are your thoughts?

Arab-themed Quilts at Local Quilt Show

May 22nd, 2012 6 comments

Today I trekked to my neighborhood quilt shop Craft Land to see a local quilt show. Dubai quilters, many of them students, created the quilts on display. It was a small show, but amongst the traditional quilts I found, as I do at every Dubai quilt show I attend, some Arab-themed and regional themed quilts.

The quilt below is “Arabian Inspirations” by Mary Nisbet.

Below is a quilt entitled “You Don’t See this at Home” by Maureen Wilson. It features all the symbols of the UAE, made with the colors of the sand.

These are details from the quilt “Reflections” by Leslie McKinlay.










Below is a quilt entitled “Pharoah’s Tent” by Ansie Vanderwalt, based on the traditional appliqué made by Egyptian quilters in the Tentmaker Quarter in Cairo.

This piece is in the category of wearable art–a jacket with appliqué of the skyline of Dubai. Yes, that is the Burj Khalifa.

This quilt has a regional theme; it’s called “Unforgettable Sri Lanka” by Mandy Peden. I like the elephant motif and the beaded trim.

Finally, here’s a spectacular quilt made by Suzette Pont, entitled “Circle of Friends.” Not Arab-themed, but one of my favorites.

The quilt show is running through this Saturday. It’s in Town Center Mall on Jumeira Beach Road. (Details to the left)

My next goal is to see the Dubai International Quilt Show, which I missed this year.

Question: Have you been to a quilt show in Dubai?


A Year of Blogging

May 20th, 2012 14 comments

Thank you to all the new followers and readers of my blog. I appreciate your support and encouraging comments. The past year has flown by—70 posts, so much to blog about.

Who knew?

Meanwhile, here is a review of some of my favorite posts from the past year, in case you missed one.

Cultural Posts

I started this blog with the post Sharing my Zeal, which explained my original goals. So, I’m wondering … have I brought down barriers between Arabs and non-Arabs? Well, my eldest son tells me I should simply work on bringing down barriers between myself and my Arab in-laws. Ha Ha Ha. Teenagers are so funny.

My most popular cross-cultural posts were the three-part series I wrote about Raising Arabic-Speaking Children. These posts generated a lot of questions and comments from other parents—many more successful with biligualism than we have been.

Another noteworthy post was Our Desert Dog. I was hesitant to blog about my pet, but my writers group encouraged me to go ahead with it. It indeed struck a chord, as some of the comments from readers were posts by themselves.

For those of you who are writers, you might appreciate my piece Writing about another Culture. I offer tips on how to avoid cultural stereotypes and clichés in your writing.

Food Posts

I started out the blog thinking I might include “a few recipes.” Well, I’ve gradually discovered that I enjoy developing Arab recipes and taking photos of food. It has thrilled me to learn that people actually prepare my dishes. Not only that—three other bloggers have blogged about testing my recipes—with positive results. Wow. That made me happy.

I guess my favorite food posts are the Ma’amoul recipes—Arab pastry secrets revealed! Also, I like my Grilled Halloumi Salad post. After all, I eat that salad nearly every day.

Look forward to more recipes coming up—especially during Ramadan. I’m now working on printable recipes. Stay tuned.

Book Reviews

I’ve stumbled a bit with my book reviews. However, now I think I figured it out: keep them short and sweet. Focus on new books that people want to know more about.

My most popular book review was a review of five books: Memoirs by Western Women Married into Arab Culture. I received lots of positive feedback on that. I also enjoyed writing a review of my favorite Palestinian memoir: In Search of Fatima. I love this book.

Travel Stories

The travel story of the year that I am most proud of is about our family trip to Mecca: My Umrah. I also liked my post Journey to Jerusalem, a story that will always stay with me.

Thank you again for reading. It’s been a fun year, and I look forward to another 70 posts, which I hope will not disappoint.

Question: What kind of posts would you like to see in the upcoming year?