Summary and book reviews of In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

In the Kingdom of Men

A Novel

By Kim Barnes

In the Kingdom of Men
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: May 2012,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2013,
    336 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

From the PEN USA Award-winning author of A Country Called Home, a richly imagined new novel about a young woman who leaves the dusty farmland of 1960s Oklahoma to follow her husband to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and finds a world of wealth, glamour, American privilege, and corruption.

Raised by her grandfather, a strict Methodist minister, in a two-room shack, Gin Mitchell secures a better, happier life for herself when she marries hometown hero Mason McPhee. But even her wildest dreams can't prepare her for the world she and Mason step into when he takes a job at the Arabian American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. In the desert city of Abqaiq, Gin and Mason are given a house with marble floors, a houseboy to cook their meals, a gardener to tend the sandy patch out back - Gin suddenly has the life she's only read about. But when a young Bedouin woman is found dead in the bay, Gin's world closes in around her and the one person she trusts is nowhere to be found. Set in a gorgeously etched desert landscape, In the Kingdom of Men is an enthralling novel of greed and deceit, of Americans out of their depth in Saudi Arabia, and of a marriage moving inexorably toward ruin.

January 1, 1970
Rome, Italy

Here is the first thing you need to know about me: I'm a bare-foot girl from red-dirt Oklahoma, and all the marble floors in the world will never change that.

Here is the second thing: that young woman they pulled from the Arabian shore, her hair tangled with mangrove - my husband didn't kill her, not the way they say he did.

There is so much, now, that you will want to know, that you believe I will be able to tell you. If not, why even begin?

Because I can't stop thinking of her, not yet eighteen, perfectly, immutably silent, just as they wanted her to be. It is the dream of her face shining up from the sea like a watery moon that still haunts me. Not even her mother will speak her name.

Because, among these Roman people whose language flows like a river over rocks, my own name drops heavy as a stone, no husband, no father, no family or tribe to tether me.

Because I don't know who I am anymore and have forgotten who it was I meant to be.

...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Kim Barnes is a genius. I got so swept away in the company of her ruthless, ruthful, grasping men that for the space of 314 pages I was Virginia Mae (Gin) McPhee. Thanks to Barnes's masterly personification, Gin breaks the bonds of the mere mundane fictional heroine - cuts the marionette strings as it were - and blooms into an irrepressible everywoman.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews
More Magazine

In the Kingdom of Men is a gripping thriller that plays out amid the oil-inflected relationships of the Americans and the Saudis (further complicated by the Bedouins and the Indians who serve them both) in the moody landscape of the Arabian frontier.

Library Journal

Barnes writes beautifully, but she isn't able to cobble together a coherent story. The novel's first third gets off to a strong start, but the cinematic descriptions of the desert don't make up for the weak characterization and unbelievable adventure plot.

Kirkus Reviews

Barnes writes poetically and intensely about personal conflict and subtly informs the reader about continuing Western misunderstandings of Middle Eastern culture.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Barnes deftly teases humanity out of corruption and hypocrisy, and her language is finely wrought and her pacing masterful - Gin's story develops languidly, then draws taut as the stakes rise.

Booklist

Starred Review. Barnes animates a magnetizing cast of cosmopolitan characters, lingers over descriptions of food and clothing, dramatizes cultural contrasts and sexual tension, and brings this intense and compassionate novel of corporate imperialism, prejudice, corruption, and yearning to such gorgeously vivid, suspenseful life that the story's darkness is perfectly balanced by the keen wit and blazing pleasure of its telling.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Berg, author of Once Upon a Time, There Was You
This is a mesmerizing novel, set in the American heartland and Saudi Arabia - two locations that on the face of it couldn't be more different. But from the point of view of a woman not allowed to be herself, the two places have startling similarities. We read, in part, to be taken elsewhere. In the Kingdom of Men succeeds mightily in this. We also read because we enjoy good writing. You'll find that in abundance here.

Author Blurb Jess Walter, author of The Financial Lives of the Poets
A great windswept adventure full of tension and suspense, In the Kingdom of Men is moving in the truest sense, sweeping the reader along with its gorgeous prose, a rich setting, and most of all, Gin McPhee, one of those rare characters who sits up on page one, grabs you and pulls you into her world.

Author Blurb Ellen Sussman, author of French Lessons
This novel has it all: an intriguing story that thunders to a thrilling climax, characters who grab our hearts, gorgeous prose and a setting that stuns the reader at every turn. Arabia!

Author Blurb Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall and About Grace
If you want to understand, right in your gut, the history of the American relationship with Saudi Arabia; if you want a magical, layered story of west-inside-east, culture layered over culture, and the slow - still ongoing - revolution of gender and race oppression, In the Kingdom of Men is your book. It's Madmen meets The Sheltering Sky, a Revolutionary Road for the oil-addicted. It's also an utter pleasure to read.

Reader Reviews
Becky H

Living in a company town
One of my friends lived in an ARAMCO compound during the 1960’s. The life depicted in THE KINGDOM OF MEN is much as she described it. Gin is running from a constricted life with a fundamentalist grandfather and finds herself living in the even more ...   Read More

Diane S.

In the Kingdom of Men
Lawrence of Arabia, Arabian nights, I remember reading so much history centering on Arabia that when I saw this book I knew it was one I had to read. In the 1960's Gin McPhee finds herself, with her husband in Saudi Arabia when her husband finds ...   Read More

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How the Introduction of Oil and Capitalism Affected Saudi Arabian Culture

In In the Kingdom of Men, Gin McPhee finds herself plopped inside an ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company) compound in the 1960s, an oasis that is neither wholly American nor Arabic but is somehow an incongruous mashup within a country still grappling with the culture shock wrought by 20th century capitalism. But what did that culture shock look like in real life?

ARAMCO headquarters complex

Eons of social and economic tradition had established a tight symbiotic relationship between Arab desert nomads (Bedouin) and the stationary farmers and villagers; nomads tended to the grazing livestock while the stationary families produced consumable goods, from tent poles to dates. Very few people were wage earners. It had always been a mostly self-contained, life-...

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