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In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes
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In the Kingdom of Men (edition 2012)

by Kim Barnes

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1421584,396 (3.56)10
Member:Monkeypats
Title:In the Kingdom of Men
Authors:Kim Barnes
Info:Knopf (2012), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:American

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In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
This book started out really good but quickly petered out for me. Learning something of Saudi Arabia and Aramco was interesting. I enjoyed the character of Yash very much and thought he was well written. Beyond that the book was boring. The last quarter of the book where the mystery takes over I didn't find believable. Another reviewer stated that the book ended quickly like the author tired of it and I have to agree. Best decision the author made because I was tired of it as well. ( )
  flippinpages | Feb 10, 2014 |
So much to love about In the Kingdom of Men (and it came highly recommended by a dear friend whose opinions on such things I value and almost always agree with), but I couldn't quite warm to this novel. The setting--an Aramco compound and surrounds in late 1960s Arabia--is fascinating, and the details of that setting and the non-American minor characters who inhabited it were my favorite parts of the story. But the main characters--even the narrator, who seems like she ought to be at least interesting, if not wholly likeable--annoyed me. The writing is often lovely, but sometimes also so cloyingly precise as to feel maddeningly claustrophobic. I didn't care much about the characters (except the ones whose fates the story leaves unknowable), and I wanted to maneuver many of them off of a bridge. When I feel this way about a book--when I see so many good things about it and feel like I should like it better than I do--I often suspect that my dislike is at least partly--if not almost wholly--my fault rather than the writer's. Maybe it was just the wrong time. Maybe I was in the wrong mood. ( )
  lycomayflower | Dec 5, 2013 |
Wow... This book was bad... I do not understand why people like it. Whoever wrote the hook for it here on goodreads has some great writing skills because that's now how the book was at all. The mystery of the women washing up on shore didn't even come up until chapter 15 (of a 17 chapter book!). There were so many parts to this book that were absolutely unnecessary and basically just fluff and did nothing to add to the story. Ginny Mae seemed very superficial and I did not connect with her, nor any of the other characters like Mason, or Abdullah... The plot did not flow and it just felt like waiting and waiting for something that never happened. And let's not forget the ending... It was like the writer decided "I've had enough of this story; let's just end it completely random". Throwing her in Rome with little to no money or a way to support herself. Not only did it suck, it was also unreasonable and completely not believable. Very disappointed in this book. ( )
  wagrobanite | Sep 24, 2013 |
IN THE KINGDOM OF MEN by Kim Barnes
One of my friends lived in an ARAMCO compound during the 1960’s. The life depicted in THE KINGDOM OF MEN is much as she described it. Gin is running from a constricted life with a fundamentalist grandfather and finds herself living in the even more constricted fundamentalist Saudi kingdom. Even though she and her husband are living in luxurious surroundings, life for Gin is boring and racist for her husband.
By befriending both her driver and her houseboy Gin is in violation of both ARAMCO and Kingdom policies. Mason in attempting to live the ideals of Martin Luther King also violates policy and then uncovers greed and corruption. Both find themselves in fear for their lives and those of their friends. Although the ending is unsatisfying, the novel as a whole is worthwhile.
An interesting story with characters you like (and dislike) teaches a fair amount of history of the Kingdom and oil. Book groups will discuss fundamentalist religions, ethnic differences, the position of women in society, dealing with boredom, whistle blowers and company corruption, Americans in foreign societies, interactions between men and women and the price of gas. ( )
  beckyhaase | Aug 21, 2013 |
I hadn't heard anythign about this book before I spotted it in the huge Waterstone's store in Piccadilly, but thought it sounded interesting and decided to take a chance on it as part of a "buy one, get one half price" offer. What a lucky choice!

It started out with a description of the early life of Virginia (known as "Gin" - the narrator) in which she lost both parents in fairly quick succession while she was still a child in the early 1960s. She was then adopted by an aunt who also quickly died and ended up with her harsh, obsessively pious lay-preacher grandfather who proceeded to bring her up under terms of total repression (rather like Stephen King's [Carrie], just without the telekinesis). I must admit that by the end of the first twenty pages I wondered what I was letting myself in for, and was considering leaving it and writing it off as a bad lot.

However, I am so glad that I persisted. Once she managed to escape from her virtual (though not exactly vituous) servitude in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Gin shines through as a fantastic character. Having eloped with Mason MacPhee, sometime college boy and basketball scholarship winner, she comes into her own. Mason does the right thing, and takes her to Texas where he finds work in the rapidly spawning oil fields. From there he is spotted as a potentially valuable drill foreman, and is given the opportunity to sign on for the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) and go out to Suadi Arabia where the company operates in partnership with the House of Faud, the Saudi Royal Family. Mason and Gin find themselves set up in relative luxury in the American employees' compound in Abqaiq, with Mason embarking on long shifts at a drilling platform (two weekson, one week off).

Barnes depicts the culture shock excellently, with Gin struggling to come to terms with the rigidity of life and the restrictions that apply to all women in Saudi Arabia, even the wives of the American workers. Restrictions are relaxed within the compound but apply as soon as she steps outside. She quickly becomes friendly with Ruthie, the very liberal and unrestrained wife of Lucky, one of the foremen. Ruthie is amazed at how naive and repressed Gin is, and makes it her mission to try to make her more sophisticated. In one episode Ruthie and Gin go into Dharhan, the nearest large settlement where they fall foul of the "mutaween" (the Moslem "virtue police") who chase them through the streets threatening to beat them. The attitudes of the mutaween are alarmingly similar to the views of Gin's grandfather.

Life in the compound is potentially luxurious, and far more comfortable thanh anything that Gin has previously dreamt of, let alone experienced for herself. However, it all leaves her rather restless, as does the sensitivity of dealing with servants - their house comes complete with Yash, a Hindu houseboy who had previously lived in India and then Britain where he received a university education, and Faris, a Moslem gardener.

Gin is eager to try to become fully integrated with her new world, and much of the beauty of the book lies in her attempts to become friendly with Yash and Faris along with Abdullah (a general factotum for Aramco) much to the consternation of her neighbours who prefer to maintain the rigid segregation. Meanwhile Mason emerges as a defender of the rights and interests of the Arab workers who make up the greater part of the Aramco workforce, but who receive mere pittances compared to their American overseers.

All in all this was a fascinating read, with an engaging central character, and I am very glad that something mad me stop and pick it up. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Aug 9, 2013 |
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Epigraph
We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.
~Anais Nin
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
~Wesley Covenant Prayer
This is one way to make a new world.
~Wallace Stegner
Dedication
For my brave and beautiful mother,
Claudette Barnes,
and with special thanks to
Coleen and Wayne Cook-
because of you, this adventure
First words
Here is the first thing you need to know about me:  I'm a barefoot girl from red-dirt Oklahoma, and all the marble floors in the world will never change that.
Here is the second thing:  That young woman they pulled from the Arabian shore, her hair tangled with mangrove - my husband didn't kill her, not the way they say he did.
Quotations
I was learning the ways of men, their silence and refusal to speak of important things, things they believe too complicated for their women to hear.
"Freedom is an illusion of the imagination"
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"A young woman from the American South finds herself in the strange world of the Middle East after she marries an oil driller"--Provided by publisher.

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