Set in Saudi Arabia, the novel is about Rosalie, an American who spent part of her childhood there and who returned to the country after marrying a Saudi man she met in college. As we meet Rosalie, she is shopping with her teenage daughter when she receives surprising news from the unlikeliest of sources – a merchant in the market: her husband has taken a second wife and in fact they have been married for two years. Since she is still considered an outsider to many in her husband’s family and his associates, this news has humiliated her and she is angry, though unsure of what to do. While this is happening, Rosalie and Abdullah’s teenage son, Faisal, is coming under the influence of a Muslim teacher/cleric and as he becomes more religious he becomes more confrontational with his parents and also with Dan, a friend of theirs from college now working in Saudi Arabia.
I think the major problem I had with this story is that for me it started in the middle, when Rosalie found out about the second wife (it’s not a spoiler, this information is revealed on the jacket copy). Aside from the obvious issues of it being a second wife and that it had been kept a secret, why did this upset Rosalie so much? What was their marriage like in the happy, earlier days? Why did this news cause her to want to distance herself from the culture that she went to so many lengths to become part of? The few flashbacks into Rosalie and Abdullah’s courtship did not provide any insight to me. As well, Faisal’s storyline seemed to be a stereotype, though I don’t know if that is because of my preconceived notions (I can’t explain this too much without a spoiler). And, again, because I felt I was dropped in mid-story, I have questions about why Faisal was moving in the direction he chose.
There are some lovely descriptions of the Saudi landscape (not all desert) and frequent use of Arabic terms, which gave me a sensory experience of the novel’s setting (though I wish there was a glossary of the terms included), but the story itself was for me not worthy of it.
For other perspectives on this novel, please visit the other stops on this tour.