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A Winter in the Middle of Two Seas: Real Stories from Bahrain Paperback – August 30, 2012
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About the Author
Ronald W. Kenyon was born and raised in Ashland, Kentucky. He was admitted to the Honors Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he studied English, Spanish and political science and won two Hopwood creative writing awards. The recipient of a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, he attended graduate school at Stanford University and studied at St. Lawrence University under a National Defense Education Act scholarship. He was certified as a French-English liaison interpreter by the U.S. Department of State Office of Language Services. Ronald W. Kenyon spent ten years living and working in the Middle East and has researched the region extensively. Aside from Bahrain, he has traveled to 47 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Also by Ronald W. Kenyon: Divagations: Collected Poetry 1959-1996 Monville: Forgotten Luminary of the French Enlightenment Monville: l'inconnu des Lumières Le Petit Kenyon: Dining in the Environs of Paris for Walkers Statues of Liberty: Real Stories from France On the Trail in France Photography: Metro Portraits Metro Messages My Beautiful France Île-de-France, terres d'inspiration
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In "A Winter in the Middle of Two Seas: Real Stories From Bahrain,"Ronald W. Kenyon takes us to such a place, the island (more accurately archipelago) nation of Bahrain. Situated geographically in the Persian Gulf it lies between Saudi Arabia and Qatar; geopolitically, and more ominously, between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran. Kenyon puts it bluntly, “The Saudis have it, the Iranians want it,”
The pleasure and uniqueness of this small, compact, and easily readable book is the author’s skill in guiding his reader – a reader who may be otherwise reluctant to travel or work in this part of the world – into the richness and variety of Bahrain and its people. An American with over 30 years of experience living and working in Europe and the Arab world, he makes the reader feel comfortable as he walks along with him or her in a land which mixes the ancient with the modern in unexpected ways.
A nation of traders, merchants, and pearl divers since antiquity, it now has shopping malls larger than America’s, filled with luxury items from Europe, the U.S., and the Far East. The Arabs of the Gulf are not only fervent Muslims, they are also fervently conspicuous consumers. In Bahrain particularly they also are a more tolerant group. In the great malls the author finds shops stocked with a selection of merchandise stored in one space that might take an ordinary traveler across several countries in the E.U. to assemble. Sunni friends bring him gifts of prayer beads and holy water from their pilgrimage to Mecca; Shiites pass by in processions whipping themselves in imitation of their many martyrs reminding him of the processions and Passion Plays still found in some areas of Europe. When the crowded streets, speedways, and malls become too much, these modern Bahrainis take holidays in the land’s desert area for spiritual refreshment and a dose of traditional family values. Increasingly, though, the simple tents of the past have given way to more elaborate ones in order to accommodate the TVs, microwaves, furniture and other accouterments they feel necessary for modern life.
The author, who is also by avocation a photographer, poet and political scientist, captures all the commonalities and contradictions of this distant yet somehow familiar place sitting pearl like in the middle of the Persian Gulf. Beyond picturesque anecdotes, Kenyon delves into the deeper and more problematic aspects of Bahrain’s economy, politics, and religious divides. But he never loses sight of the people – the nonmilitant laity of this society. As such this book is not a naïve picture but one grounded in a fragile but real hope.
If Bahrain appears like a Middle Eastern nation more amenable to Americans than most in the region, that might be one of the reasons the U.S. Navy has made it the command center for its Fifth Fleet guarding the Persian Gulf. Other Americans have now found their way to Bahrain. We have to hope that the place and its people are and remain as hospitable and interesting to them as there were to Ronald W. Kenyon.
The book contains an amazing wealth of information in its 170 pages and is clearly a must for people planing to visit Bahrain or the Gulf, but anyone about to travel anywhere would do well to read it (it won't take them long) - it reminds one what it is to travel intelligently, and just how enriching an activity it can be.
The author has a keen eye for detail and an excellent understanding of arab/muslim customs ( having worked in The Gulf for many years). Now, sharing what he`s learned, he offers us a series of interesting anecdotes that paint a colourful picture of everyday life in Bahrain, all set against a fascinating history, a unique geography, a religious schism, amazing craftmanship, and some unusual social customs.
After reading the final chapter, you will no longer be easily misled by mainstream media reports about the ongoing struggle for modernization in the arab world in general and in Bahrain in particular - a struggle at one level between Sunni and Shia - and at another between the leaders and the people. Here you will be party to Mr Kenyon's thoughts about the Arab Spring - with an ending that brings hope for a peaceful resolution.