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Small Kingdoms Hardcover – January 1, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hobbet's compelling novel is set in Kuwait between the Gulf Wars, with the country poised for the next wave of unexpected terror while coming to grips with the last: He'd expected to see some scars of the war. But there was nothing that spoke of the violence, not even a tank posed as a public memorial. Hobbet's disparate protagonists come from different classes, countries and faiths: devoutly Muslim, wealthy Mufeeda; her young Indian cook, Emmanuella; California doctor Theo; Theo's Arabic teacher, Hanaan (a Palestinian); and timid American housewife Kit (also Mufeeda's neighbor). Each character is, to varying degrees, a misfit in a society beset by violence and ancient practices. When news of murdered maids begins circulating, several characters undertake a precarious plan to save a maid in danger, a dangerous mission with the potential to change all their lives permanently. Hobbet's extensive knowledge of Kuwait's people, customs and political landscape combine to make an immersive, authentic novel about Middle East life. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Hobbet’s second novel, set in Kuwait between the two Gulf wars, beautifully evokes both character and place. As the novel opens, Mufeeda, a well-to-do Kuwaiti housewife, is interrupted from her morning prayers by a loud crash. Is it the Iraqis, or just clumsy cook Emmanuella breaking another dish? Mercifully, it’s the latter, but war is never far from Mufeeda’s mind. Her neighbor Kit, an American living in Kuwait with her husband and family, is equally unsettled by a regular siege of foreign sounds. She’s never sure if it’s a lightning storm—like in her native Oklahoma—or a Scud missile. At the nearby hospital, Theo, a doctor from northern California, ignores frequent memos warning him of impending invasions. His new Arab girlfriend, Hanaan, already gives him enough to fret about, with her impassioned opinions and dangerously overprotective family. (Her brother, a fundamentalist Muslim, beats her for dating an American.) Hobbet, who spent several years in Kuwait, vividly renders both the stark landscape of the Middle East and its class disparity, from Mufeeda, a doctor’s wife with a slew of servants, to Emmanuella, a poor Indian driven to desperate measures when a maid at a nearby residence is being abused. An eloquent, haunting, and enlightening novel. --Allison Block
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Permanent Press (January 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579621910
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579621919
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,624,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read Small Kingdoms, in manuscript form, several times over many years. I had the good fortune to meet Anastasia Hobbet and her husband, back in 1996 when we all lived in Kuwait City. It was a very odd environment, really. You were in a foreign land, and at the same time you weren't. We used to read the local English language paper The Arab Times. Along with the stories of car wrecks, and the Emir's occasional threats to give women the vote, and photos of various dishdasha-wearing dignitaries cutting ceremonial ribbons with giant swords, or cutting the throat of a young camel during a celebratory anniversary sacrifice, were stories of suicides by maids and servants. It was Anastasia who pointed out to me that there was more going on, and I began to pay more attention to these back-of-the paper stories. The Philippine embassy had to charter a special plane to return the hundred or so maids who had been taking asylum there, with no passports and nothing but the clothes on their backs, after escaping their "employers." A maid had committed suicide. Another maid had committed suicide. A maid was arrested for having stolen property in her room. A maid was found murdered and the body dumped at the roadside. A Mercedes had pulled up at the hospital and disgorged a terribly beaten maid, then driven off. There were no corresponding articles discussing the arrests of the perpetrators. We realized that these women were being horribly abused.
As American expats we were treated well. As an American woman, you could have Kuwaiti women friends. But once Anastasia pointed it out to me, you could also see the pain and suffering all around you. You could read about it in the paper every week, about another maid found dead in her room.
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Format: Hardcover
Set in Kuwait in the time between the two Gulf wars, Small Kingdoms is a rare novel in its sensitive observations and careful construction. Not a word is out of place, and every image works. All the plot lines are successful, without an overwhelming reliance on coincidence to tie them together. The characters from Kuwait, with their completely different society and culture, feel natural and comfortable as we read about them, people we can recognize for their common humanity and can respect for their differences from our own way of thinking. The novel is rich with ideas, complete in the depiction of cultural differences and sensitive to ideas which Americans, especially women, may find alien, ideas which are an integral part of Kuwaiti Muslim culture.

Two families, poles apart in their attitudes toward life, are at the center of this novel--a Kuwaiti family consisting of Mufeeda and her husband Saleh, a physician, and their children, and an American family consisting of Kit, her businessman husband Jack, and their younger children, who live across the street. Mufeeda is a traditional Muslim woman, living the traditional life of a wealthy Kuwaiti in the city, with an assortment of servants from other countries, mostly from South Asia. Mufeeda's cook, Emmanuela, from Goa, the only person aware of the abuse and deliberate starvation of an Indian maidservant who lives next door, represents the powerlessness of poor immigrants, dependent on their salaries in Kuwait to support families back in India, with no support system they can call on for help. Kit, with her somewhat undisciplined children, is a typical American in many ways, a woman from an Oklahoma farm family who is uncomfortable with the idea of having servants at all, and not really sure how to survive in Kuwait.
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Format: Hardcover
The United States Department of State reported in its June 2007 "Trafficking in Persons Report" that Kuwait (along with five other Gulf nation -- Bahrain, Iran, Oman, Qatar, and Saudia Arabia) was one of the world's sixteen worst offenders in human trafficking. In Kuwait, migrant workers, particularly domestic servants, are frequently subjected to inhumane housing, physical beatings (some resulting in death with no punishment for the perpetrator), sexual abuse, and confiscation of passports. These workers, mostly from very poor areas of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, and the Philippines, are forced to work extremely long hours with little or no wages. In Kuwait, human trafficking is a part of the socially sanctioned fabric of daily life. The government has done little to resolve the problem, and the justice system turns a blind eye.

Anastasia Hobbet is an American woman who lived in Kuwait during the five-year period between the two Gulf Wars (1995-2000). Her debut novel, "Small Kingdoms," is set in Kuwait during this period and is designed to expose Western readers to the complicated cultural landscape of Kuwaiti society. The story focuses on the treatment of domestic servants and revolves around the rescue of one vulnerable, starved, physically and sexually abused victim -- a housemaid from India called Santana.

The book is not overly judgmental and ends with a tone of optimism. Surprisingly, Hobbet manages to convey a deep love and understanding for the people of Kuwait. The novel is a product of an author who is a keen observer of human nature. Hobbet steers away from stereotypes. Her main characters are complicated, multifaceted individuals.
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