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The Ruins of Us

by Keija Parssinen

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1055229,019 (3.94)6
Twenty-five years into her marriage to wealthy Abdullah al-Baylani, the American Rosalie is shattered to find that her husband has taken another wife, and worries about the effect this will have on their teenage children, Faisal and Mariam--worries that will soon prove prescient.

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This was a book I found to be well written and engrossing and one that I was not able to put down. I enjoy reading books that take me to another part of the world that I will never experience and the author made it so real to me.
Rosalie meets wealthy Abdullah Baylani while at college in America. He is from Saudi Arabia and she while American grew up in Saudi Arabia as her father worked in the oil industry. She had always had a hankering to go back so when they married, much to the disapproval of his family, they returned and as the book opens they have been married for twenty years and have two children a boy and a girl. It is at this point that Rosalie is devastated to find out that Abdullah has a second wife, who is much younger and that they have been married for two years. This is something she never thought her 'modern' husband would do. Rosalie had worked at becoming the typical Saudi wife and it is this fact that Abdullah bemoans. He has lost the spirited American wife that he fell in love with,
Their son Faisal on the other hand is caught between two cultures and feels accepted in neither. He through a friend comes under the influence of radical extremists, and with this friend takes a decision without really thinking it through and realising what the consequences could be. As a result the book builds to a gripping climax and both Rosalie and Abdullah have to rethink what is important to them.
From reading this book it becomes easier to understand how lost and confused teenagers living in such a world today can lose their way, as Faisal did, become part of terrorist organisations, and commit terrorist acts especially if they are from poor families with few prospects for the future.
This is a book that is definately worth reading. The author, like the character Rosalie, was born and spent many years living in Saudi Arabia but now lives in America. ( )
  kiwifortyniner | Feb 6, 2013 |
This is a magnetic narrative which is wrapped around the love of an expat, Rosalie, and her Saudi husband, Abdullah. They meet as students, at a Texas University, and after they marry, Abdullah convinces Rosalie to return to his native country. She had been raised there, because her father had worked for an oil company, and needs little persuasion. The pull of the country was drawing her back and she was eager to go. Forgetting her hippy past and disregarding the lack of freedom for women, she reentered the Kingdom, making a valiant effort to live there and raise her family.
The author was also raised in Saudi Arabia, for the first 12 years of life, and she deftly shines a light on the culture, the beauty, the excesses of the royals, the oppression and the fanaticism of a government ruled dually by religion and the oil fields. It illumines the hatred for the infidels, fueled by not only the religion, but also by the extreme poverty and arrogance of the Americans, who treat them like second class citizens in their own country. The royals and those associated with the government are privileged while everyone else is in an underclass. The story shows how the ways of the old world mesh with the new, sometimes not very smoothly, sometimes causing irreparable tears in the fabric of relationships.
She exposes the threads of discontent in the poor and even the rich, the insecurities that live within the young boys that can turn them into terrorists, not even realizing the consequences of their reckless behavior. Lost and confused, they turn to the radical approach to Islam, worship their Imams and are too immature to realize the frightening implications of their behavior or the devastating consequences. They think no further than the moment and are simply not able to make rational decisions. These young rebels often observe the behavior of others, interpreting with the eye of the religious zealot, creating explanations that are misleading and overblown, which then leads them to radical retributive behavior that is not grounded in reality. Their solutions are often barbaric.
The book illustrates how the culture might encourage a misunderstood young man to commit heinous acts, in the name of his religion. It shines a light on both the privileged and underprivileged, offering explanations for how both are led down the path of radicalism by home life, greed, the political environment, deprivation, emotional neediness, and a need for structure and direction.
There were moments when the story seemed a trifle contrived and the events serendipitous, but despite this, the story is very engaging. About two thirds of the way through the book, the tension builds to a crescendo and the reader will feel real fear because the scene depicted is too close to the reality of today. We are all only too aware of the cruelty of which extremists are capable. She demonstrates how Bin Ladens might be born out of innocence and immaturity, encouraged by radical Imams who prey upon unsuspecting victims, unaware of the cost of what they might be called upon to do.
The characters are clearly defined and the author’s style is inviting. You know immediately that you will enjoy the book. Parssinen wisely uses her words to demonstrate the workings of the two worlds, the Saudi and the American, as they come into conflict with each other.
It is a wonderful book for a book club. The discussions on marriage, fidelity, women’s rights, counter cultures, religious freedom, democracy, family life, monogamy and freedom, to name a few, should be very entertaining and enlightening. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Jul 6, 2012 |
This is ostensibly the story of the marriage between Rosalie and Abdullah Baylani. Rosalie is an American and Abdullah is Saudi Arabian. Rosalie was born and lived in Saudi Arabia for the first 12 years of her life and had always had a romantic notion of it being the country in which she belongs. As a college student she meets Abdullah who has come to study at a Texan university, they fall in love and he defies his family to marry her and take her back to Saudi Arabia with him, there he takes over the family business and builds it into a multi -million dollar company. He and Rosalie have a son and daughter and live the good life. The book begins when they have been married over 20 years and their children are teenagers; she discovers that her adored husband has take a second - Arab - wife and installed her in a house nearby, and that he has been hiding this from her for two years. Abdullah justifies his betrayal of Rosalie by convincing himself that it is ok as the Koran permits polygamy. The fall-out from this situation leads the plot.

What I found most interesting about the book was how the relationship between the couple is used to explore the role and expectations of modern western women and Muslim men. The way men and women live in Saudi Arabia is completely distorted by the strict Islamic codes which are ruthlessly enforced in society. From puberty there is no possibilty of men and women being colleagues or friends, all encounters are assumed to have some sexual motive. Women are continually covered-up so that men cannot see them. This has a corrupting effect on the whole society. Young men, denied normal contact with women , have a twisted attitude towards women and think of them as being primarily sexual beings. Wealthy Saudis frequently head to Bahrain and Dubai for an evening's R&R which includes - hypocritically - lots of drinking alcohol and seeking out prostitutes - they don't know any other sort of woman outsid their families and their fevered imaginations.
It seems that in Saudi Arabia Islam is used to keep women subservient and allow the society to be completely controlled for the benefit of men.

Before any western woman marries a Saudi she should read this book and be aware of what she is letting herself in for. ( )
  herschelian | Jun 21, 2012 |
Enjoyed reading about Saudi Arabia, their politics and customs, but I just really did not like any of these characters. When Rosie, though raised on an oil compound in Saudi, meets her husband while they are both attending college in Texas, he risks much family ire and marries her. They return to Saudi, have two children, married for almost twenty years, when she finds out he has taken a second wife and kept her secret for two years. They only character I really liked was a family friend named Dan. I especially disliked the husband and feel that thought this was an interesting read it could have been better had a few of the characters been more sympathetic to the reader. ( )
  Beamis12 | Mar 4, 2012 |
In this book you will find a seemingly perfect family; rich, attractive, looking like they have everything they need. Once you look deeper, though, you find that not all is as it seems to be. Rosalie grew up in Saudi Arabia - her father worked in the oil fields. When she meets Abdullah Baylani one night in the bar where she is working while going to college all her childhood memories come flooding back. A longing for what was combined with love has her marrying and returning the desert she so loves.

But she returns not with the freedom of a child but rather as the sheltered wife of an influential Saudi man. Confined by the strictures of society she longs for a freedom she can't express. When she discovers that her supposedly modern husband has taken a second MUCH younger wife she falls apart. She learns it in a most uncomfortable way and then she finds he has been married to this woman for close to two years. In the midst of the marital fallout neither parent realizes what path their son has started to take. He is torn between his two differing heritages and cannot find himself at home in either. This causes him to make a serious error in judgement with ramifications for all members of his family.

The book is not a happy book by any means but the story was so compelling. I read it in one sitting; I really could not put the book down. The writing is magical for lack of any other word. The descriptions had me feeling the heat of the desert and feeling the suffering of the characters. Of course the husband marries a younger woman and then bemoans that she will age....seriously men - WE ALL GET OLDER. Even you. It's fiction that makes you want to scream at the book. It ends yet it continues is all I will offer. The characters are fascinating - not a single one of them is one dimensional. So much nuance and so utterly delightful. It's a book I'm keeping to read again. ( )
  BooksCooksLooks | Jan 19, 2012 |
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Twenty-five years into her marriage to wealthy Abdullah al-Baylani, the American Rosalie is shattered to find that her husband has taken another wife, and worries about the effect this will have on their teenage children, Faisal and Mariam--worries that will soon prove prescient.

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