One Read 2013
The central character in Daniel Boone Regional Library’s 2013 One Read selection, ”The Ruins of Us“ (Harper Perennial, 2012) by Keija Parssinen, is American expat Rosalie. She has spent nearly three decades in Saudi Arabia, immersed in a culture and religion of which she can never fully feel a part. The foundation of her marriage also has crumbled, as she discovers that her husband has taken a second wife. Her increasingly radicalized son has become like a stranger to her. Unmoored, Rosalie must decide whether she can continue to inhabit this life or if she should leave her adopted home behind.
For the month of September, the library and a task force of community organizations will be sponsoring programs that explore the themes of ”The Ruins of Us,“ including female identity in Muslim countries and the cultural landscape of the Middle East. One Read provides an incredible opportunity not only to connect with our friends and neighbors through conversations about a single book, but also to learn about places or times outside our realms of experience, to imagine ”life in a country not your own.“
Like Parssinen, novelist Zoë Ferraris gives us a view into the lives of the extremely wealthy in Saudi Arabia, but she uses the mystery genre to reveal the complexity of a closed society both steeped in tradition and striving to modernize. Ferraris' literary thriller ”Finding Nouf“ (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) introduces desert guide Nayir ash-Sharqi as he searches for the missing daughter of a prominent family. Nouf is discovered drowned in the desert, and to solve the riddle of what really happened to her, Nayir must contend with the country’s strict gender segregation and his own piety, relying on Katya Hijazi, a female laboratory technician in the medical examiner’s office, to access the world of women. The shifting sands — both figurative and literal — of the Saudi setting make for a well-paced and gripping read. Ferraris' follow-up thriller, “City of Veils” (Little, Brown & Co., 2010), likewise paints an intimate and sobering portrait of women's lives in the Middle East. This go-round, Nayir and Katya investigate the brutal murder of a young female filmmaker.
In “The Ruins of Us,” the reader gets an outsider’s perspective on Saudi culture through the character of Dan, an American working in the Middle East. “A Hologram for the King” (McSweeney’s, 2012) by Dave Eggers places such a character at its center, presenting the middle-aged, floundering, debt-ridden Alan, whose financial survival depends on landing a contract to supply information technology services to the newly formed “King Abdullah Economic City” in Saudi. Melancholy and at times absurd, this novel feels like an accurate reflection of today’s global economy and how it has set many of us adrift, building our hopes on castles of sand.
Kim Barnes' “In the Kingdom of Men” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) also offers an outsider’s experience of the Middle East, this time in the 1960s. Gin escapes the rigidity of her misogynistic, Pentecostal upbringing in Oklahoma only to encounter a different set of restrictions and prejudices as the wife of an Aramco employee living in Saudi Arabia. Told inGin’s sometimes naïve but genuine and captivating voice, this novel indicts corporate corruption and restrictions on women while highlighting Westerners' ongoing misunderstanding of Middle Eastern societies.
Not exactly outsiders and not exactly natives, immigrants and their children often occupy an ambiguous space between two countries and two cultures, unable to fully inhabit either one. Azadeh Moaveni's intimate and nuanced “Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran” (PublicAffairs, 2005) and Sophia Al-Maria's witty memoir “The Girl Who Fell to Earth' (Harper Collins, 2012) both capture the difficulty of growing up between American and Middle Eastern cultures.
Moaveni travels to Iran as a young journalist, hoping to learn more about her parents’ country and her own “true self.” In the process, she exposes the country’s complicated political climate after the Islamic Revolution and tensions between tradition and the forces of modernization. Al-Maria faces similar identity issues, shuttling between Washington state and Qatar, trying to belong to her Bedouin family as well as find her “tribe” among sometimes savage American middle schoolers. She spends her teenage years in Qatar and attends university in Cairo, ultimately forging an identity for herself out of her nomadic life and sometimes contradictory cultural heritage.
Female identity in the Muslim world, tensions between cultures and that universal longing for home and homeland are just some of the topics we'll explore through panel discussions, film, art and more during this year's One Read program. Find a full list of this year’s events at oneread.org and make plans to join in.