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The Ruins of Us: A Novel Paperback – January 17, 2012
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“Absorbing. . . . A testament to Parssinen’s literary talent, this woven narrative moves seamlessly, chapter by chapter, as the suspenseful story escalates.” (Boston Globe)
“Keija Parssinen vividly evokes daily reality in the Kingdom. . . . While she portrays the physical and social landscapes with the precision of an impassioned expat, Parssinen also limns-with a wisdom that belies her age-the culture-transcending contours of the human heart.” (National Geographic Traveler)
“Keija Parssinen was a third-generation expat in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, and she summons its atmosphere of fraught privilege in her debut novel, The Ruins of Us.” (T: The New York Times Style Magazine)
“A compelling debut.” (Marie Claire (UK))
“An intelligent, complex story of interfaith marriage. . . . That balances nail-biting tension with lyrical intent.” (The Guardian)
“Having been brought up in Saudi Arabia, [Parssinen] knows the background and writes boldly and unsentimentally of a family’s predicament at the edge of cultural fault lines.” (Sunday Times (London))
“Extraordinarily polished, supremely mature.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“[Parssinen] digs deep in this narrative, and what she unearths is exquisitely wrought.” (Columbia Daily Tribune)
“The Ruins of Us is a stunning debut novel--a love story that spans continents. Parssinen teaches us that while cultural differences run deep, when it comes to matters of the heart, we are all the same. I was dazzled by this book.” (Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Close Your Eyes)
“Parssinen convincingly inhabits the shifting moods of her characters. . . . Throughout, her prose is artful without being showy, forced, or melodramatic, and her knowledge of Saudi culture informs the story. . . . A fine debut.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Parssinen’s gripping, well-crafted debut tracks the awakening of a Saudi Arabian family to the dangers that lurk within. . . . Parssinen deftly illuminates Saudi Arabian life through a family locked in a battle over morality and cultural chasms.” (Publishers Weekly)
“THE RUINS OF US tells a gripping story about Saudi Arabian princes and bureaucrats, wives and extra-wives, sons and daughters, fanatics and exiles. . . . [Keija Parssinen] directs the human and historical traffic with a maestro’s sense of pace, and a true storyteller’s sense of consequence.” (Scott Spencer, author of Man in the Woods)
“THE RUINS OF US is an arresting story of family and country. Parssinen’s characters are richly conceived and her evocative petrol universe of wealth, privilege, and intrigue is unforgettable. Powerful storytelling that is refreshing and entertaining.” (Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead)
“A big, brave novel, Keija Parssinen’s THE RUINS OF US takes us behind the compound walls of Saudi Arabia and into the secret passions that threaten to tear one family apart. Step into Parssinen’s sensual prose and be transported.” (Anna Solomon, author of The Little Bride)
“Parssinen carries the reader . . . in the grip of a story that is both entertaining and wise. . . . The debut of an enormously talented writer who is unafraid to lead us on the greatest adventure of all--into the wilds of the human heart.” (Lise Saffran, author of Juno's Daughters)
“[An] accomplished debut novel . . . clearly the work of a gifted storyteller.” (The National)
“This stunning novel explores some emotionally explosive territory--what happens when a Muslim man takes a second wife after many years of marriage to his first one. Parssinen handles it with grace, intelligence, and gorgeous prose--a transporting and beautiful book.” (Zoë Ferraris, author of Kingdom of Strangers)
“Parssinen’s characters capture all the complexities, aspirations, ambiguities, and sheer hypocrisy of Saudi society today. A notable achievement and a page-turner. I could not put it down till I had finished.” (Dr. Roger Allen, Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor Emeritus of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics, School of Arts & Sciences; Professor Emeritus of Arabic & Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania)
From the Back Cover
More than two decades after moving to Saudi Arabia and marrying powerful Abdullah Baylani, American-born Rosalie learns that her husband has taken a second wife. That discovery plunges their family into chaos as Rosalie grapples with leaving Saudi Arabia, her life, and her family behind. Meanwhile, Abdullah and Rosalie’s consuming personal entanglements blind them to the crisis approaching their sixteen-year-old son, Faisal, whose deepening resentment toward their lifestyle has led to his involvement with a controversial sheikh. When Faisal makes a choice that could destroy everything his embattled family holds dear, all must confront difficult truths as they fight to preserve what remains of their world.
The Ruins of Us is a timely story about intolerance, family, and the injustices we endure for love that heralds the arrival of an extraordinary new voice in contemporary fiction.
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Top customer reviews
Through this one family and an American friend of the family, Dan Coleman, the author explores changes in the family caused by both internal and external forces, including the insidious force of secrets. "Secrets need shadows to thrive, and she would shine a spotlight on the onyx pendant and what lived beneath it." Artfully explored by the author is the birthing process of religious fervor and extremism in some young men, the ties to tradition (Abdullah taking a 2nd wife), forces within a culture that push for change (Miriam, Abdullah and Rosalie's daughter, who creates a blog that seeks readers that, like herself, want changes that allow more freedom for women), and the boundaries of friendship and love. When the book ends, the ties that bind family members to one another have been redefined in heart-rending ways. "Let this be a lesson in love - that you do not always get what you want. That sometimes, you must watch your love across a murmuring sea...."
This book is a fresh, revelatory love story and a story of perceived betrayal. At times it is a mystery and at other times a thriller, but above all else it is a story of a family in transition, personally and culturally. It is also painful to read at times, and one scene is particularly nerve-wracking, but the motivations of each character are so well-developed that I felt a genuine understanding of the motivations of all of them. I felt like I knew the characters in the first few pages and now that I've finished the book, I"ll think of them many times over.
I'd read a sequel to this in a heartbeat- at the resolution of the book everyone seems to be set off on new adventures, and I'd love to watch these characters grow and develop some more. They are well-written enough to feel like friends or extended family- I'd like to keep in touch and see how they're doing. That character development, more than the particular plot elements or exotic setting, is the real strength of the book.
The plot races right along, and gets especially gripping at the end. (no spoilers...)
The characters are well-developed and motivated. Descriptions are fantastic, and very accurately capture the feeling of being there. Here's one of my favorites:
"There is a trouble peculiar to expatriate children who fall in love with Saudi Arabia. Their visas expire when they leave, and they quickly discover that the place they have loved so long does not want them back. There is no room in a closed Muslim society for nostalgic American children. With no possibility of return, these boys and girls, at first melancholy with their loss, soon create in memory the perfect homeland, a suitable object for all the yearning sadness in their quiet American lives."
The only reason that I didn't give this five stars was that I didn't quite believe the way the two main characters felt about their marriage. This, I think, is due to the author being relatively young herself. So we can forgive her if her ideas of what it feels like to be married to someone for 20 years might be a little off. (smile) Otherwise -- great book!
I love Rosalie because she is not a victim - she is well aware of what she got herself into by marrying a Saudi citizen, and she doesn't expect to be rescued. Nor does she see it as a mistake - her conflict is her love for her husband and his country against her own needs and self-respect. Divorcing him and returning to her hometown in Texas is less a logistic and legal problem than an unappealing solution. Early on it the book, it is clear that the decision she eventually will make will be hers alone - not what society (Saudi or Western) or conventional wisdom would tell her to do.
I can't wait to see more from this author - this is an amazingly accomplished work for a first novel.