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
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.
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).
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?
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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