Posted 20 hours ago


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Andrew, a civil engineer, is there to make a lot of money by working on the construction of a new Ministry Building. IMO a much better book , involving modern Saudi Arabia and its rigid sexual polarization is the simple but well written "Finding Nouf. L'impossibilità di guidare e quindi di spostarsi autonomamente, in un luogo dove anche passeggiare non è proprio agevole, è infatti uno degli elementi fondamentali che costruiscono l'opprimente senso di inquietudine, disagio e disorientamento che comunica questo libro, non appassionante come altri dell'autrice, ma molto efficace nel rendere questa percezione di un mondo che segrega ossessivamente le donne. It is as if the whole world is veiled; when bloody reality erupts, when there is a shootout, an explosion, when body parts have to be picked from the gutter, then rumour is the attending policeman.

Even without the plot, I found this fascinating and utterly gripping - it's nuanced in its approach to a different culture without pulling its punches.At the same time, Mantel has never shied away from creating unsympathetic or nasty main characters, so maybe she meant for the reader to come away thinking that the main character was pretty racist? I visited Riyadh briefly on a reporting trip at about the same period Mantel describes -- when the bloom of the oil gold rush was fading and the Kingdom was forced into budget cuts that led to many grand building projects being abandoned. The answers to all the questions that beset you are not in facts, which are the greatest illusion of all, but in your own heart, in your own habits, in your limitations, in your fear. I suppose it’s natural that so much attention gets devoted to Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, but IMO some of her earlier works as just as notable.

The expats tell each other, as they are told, that they must respect the cultural differences of the host country. Parts of the book might be considered racist today, but then I guess that was how people were in the '80s. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. That glimpse of Saudi life I found fascinating, and the expats don’t come out well either – most of them are racist – hard drinking and thoroughly unpleasant. For her novel, Mantel has embellished her miserable experience with a sinister mystery concerning a supposedly unoccupied flat in the gloomy building where Frances Shore lives with her husband, a contractor employed by the Saudi government.

There is also the issue of the expatriate community and how they behave (book clubs, casual affairs, dinner parties), which Frances also finds difficulty in adapting to. As her world narrows, Frances spending time learning about Islam from the Quran, writing her diary, cooking, and speaking to her neighbours, Frances’s sense of unease only grows.

She also wrote A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Beyond Black, Every Day Is Mother's Day, Vacant Possession, and a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. In the only African nation that kept full ties with South Africa all the wanted was our stuff–things that weren’t being imported from SA! Being kicked out of Saudi Arabia is one of the better outcomes; the worst is having to be in a jail or a hospital, where things happen, things that you can never prove, so officially, they never happened.Additionally, I listened to the audiobook so it’s possible I missed something (something about the date of the memo, opening the book?

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