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Mother Without a Mask by Patricia Holton
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Mother Without a Mask

by Patricia Holton

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A window in time.

I originally read this in 2001 and gave it just two stars. I found it boring, and only the details of the wedding really interested me. I recently re-read it, reluctantly, for a book group, and I was surprised to discover a fascinating account of a bye-gone era.

Patricia Holton's husband had business with the United Arab Emirates in the 1970s. As a result of this, Patricia agrees to host the two younger sons of an Emirati Sheikh, while they do their university courses in the UK. She helps them to acclimatise to life in England and is curious about the country they have left. Over many breakfasts and suppers, they teach each other and compare cultural differences.

Eventually Patricia, now known as Mrs Tea Cup by the boys, is invited to Al Ain, an oasis area of Abu Dhabi, as guest to the family. She begins her visits in a hotel, but as they all get to know each other better, she is invited to their homes, and finally absorbed into the family, particularly by the women.

The book provides a wonderful cultural window into a time that is now largely passed. These women were the last of a generation that has since been swamped by oil wealth and tourism. Ms Holton is sad to see this era pass, but rather repetitive with her comments to this effect. However, her observations of family life do provide a rare insight into the traditions of the modern day Emiratis.

I originally came to the Emirates in 1984 and I remember the old Buraimi part of Al Ain; now fenced off from the Emirates as it is actually part of Oman. Old houses can still be found from this time and it is fascinating to imagine how the much simpler life of these people went on in those, now crumbling, houses.

Apart from the frequent comments bemoaning the end of an era, my other criticism would be a feeling that this is a slightly sanitised version. I sense that the author is being very respectful to her hosts and only writing what they wish her to.
Strangely, while many of the women are named, I can't think of a time when the two boys or their father, are actually called by their names, they are always known as The Second Son, The Youngest Son and The Sheikh.

This is well worth reading if you are living in the UAE and has also been enjoyed by several of our visitors to the area. ( )
  DubaiReader | Mar 20, 2014 |
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