Here is the first thing you need to know about me: I’m a barefoot 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.
1967. Gin Mitchell knows a better life awaits her when she marries hometown hero Mason McPhee. Raised in a two-room shack by her Oklahoma grandfather, a strict Methodist minister, Gin never believed that someone like Mason, a handsome college boy, the pride of Shawnee, would look her way. And nothing can prepare her for the world she and Mason step into when he takes a job with the Arabian American Oil company in Saudi Arabia. In the gated compound of Abqaiq, Gin and Mason are given a home with marble floors, a houseboy to cook their meals, and a gardener to tend the sandy patch out back. Even among the veiled women and strict laws of shariah, Gin’s life has become the stuff of fairy tales. She buys her first swimsuit, she pierces her ears, and Mason gives her a glittering diamond ring. But when a young Bedouin woman is found dead, washed up on the shores of the Persian Gulf, Gin’s world closes in around her, and the one person she trusts is nowhere to be found.
Set against the gorgeously etched landscape of a country on the cusp of enormous change, In the Kingdom of Men abounds with sandstorms and locust swarms, shrimp peddlers, pearl divers, and Bedouin caravans—a luminous portrait of life in the desert. Award-winning author Kim Barnes weaves a mesmerizing, richly imagined tale of Americans out of their depth in Saudi Arabia, a marriage in peril, and one woman’s quest for the truth, no matter what it might cost her.
About Kim Barnes
Kim Barnes is the author of two memoirs and two previous novels, including A Country Called Home, which received the 2009 PEN Center USA Literary Award in fiction and was named a best book of 2008 by The Washington Post, the Kansas City Star, and The Oregonian. She is the recipient of the PEN/Jerard Fund Award for an emerging woman writer of nonfiction, and her first memoir, In the Wilderness, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has appeared in a number of publications and anthologies, including TheNew York Times; MORE magazine; The Oprah Magazine;Good Housekeeping; Fourth Genre; The Georgia Review; Shenandoah; and the Pushcart Prizeanthology. Barnes is a professor of writing at the University of Idaho and lives with her husband, the poet Robert Wrigley, on Moscow Mountain.
When her husband Mason gets a job with Aramco, Oklahoman Gin McPhee moves from small-town life to a wider—and wilder—world of privilege, corruption and Middle Eastern geopolitics in the 1960s.
Raised by her strict Methodist grandfather after her parents died, Gin begins to define herself by an attitude of rebellion. One form this rebellion takes is to date Mason McPhee, the local Golden Boy, who quickly impregnates her in the back of a sedan. Although, much to their sorrow, the child dies, Mason does the honorable thing by marrying Gin and then, after briefly working on oil rigs in Oklahoma and Texas, accepts a position with Aramco in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. There, while Mason is working two-week shifts out in the desert, Gin finds herself getting acquainted with bored and blasé women such as Candy Fullerton, wife of the district manager, and Ruthie Doucet, who warns Gin about “uppity” houseboys and orients her about what behaviors women are not allowed to engage in outside the compound within whose walls they live. The rules include women not driving, not visiting the suqs and most of all, not going outside the gates alone. True to her rebellious nature, Gin begins to change in the exotic environment, befriending her “houseboy,” a mature man named Yash, as well as Abdullah, a Bedouin with a degree in petroleum engineering. At first Mason is content with his new job—or at least content with the money that comes with it—but soon he uncovers evidence of a corrupt scheme in which both Americans and Saudis are implicated. Stressed by what to do with this information, he finds his relationship with Gin deteriorating and then becomes implicated in the murder of a young Arabian woman. – Kirkus Reviews
‘In the Kingdom of Men,’ by Kim Barnes
The Washington Post Book Review – August 9, 2012 (Excerpt)
In Kim Barnes’s unusual new novel, “a bare-foot girl from red-dirt Oklahoma” tells us the events of her (so far, very short) life story. Gin grows up in Oklahoma, among the poorest of the poor. She is raised by her fire-and-brimstone grandfather, who firmly believes that women are vessels of sin. Her mother has come to a bad end, and the only emotional weapons Gin carries are a generous heart and a mindless defiance, a refusal to be looked down upon by anyone.
Precisely because she isn’t supposed to get into trouble with boys, she manages to do just that, losing her virginity on a first date to young Mason McPhee, who is slated to go to college. He was “meant to be the finest public defender to come out of Pottawatomie County, maybe even a judge,” Gin tells us. “He was sure that he could make a difference. He railed against the war in Vietnam and segregation, told me about the marches and protests he attended.” Gin has never met anybody like Mason. “We’ve got to think bigger,” he tells her, “do bigger things, like the Reverend King says.”
Of course, that unfortunate incident in the back seat of his car threatens to put an end to all that. Gin’s grandfather shuns her; Mason’s family takes an extremely dim view of the pregnancy, but Mason vows to do the right thing. In 1967, he marries Gin and gets a job as a roughneck, learning the oil business from the ground up. The young couple are happy, living in their rickety honeymoon digs. Then Gin has a miscarriage, is told that she can’t have any more children, and that phase of their marriage is over. [Read the full article...]
Accidental Tourist - ‘In the Kingdom of Men,’ by Kim Barnes
The New York Times Book Review – August 31, 2012 (Excerpt)
It takes guts to title a novel after a line from the Bible — “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men” — and then to begin Chapter 1 with possibly the most famous biblical reference available: “In the beginning.”
Following through, Kim Barnes casts her protagonist and narrator, a young American called Gin, in the image of a certain female character from a certain creation myth. In the beginning (of the novel), Gin’s authoritarian Methodist grandfather warns her that she’s a “daughter of Eve, a danger to myself, a temptation to those around me.” He’s not far off. “In the Kingdom of Men” is the story of Gin’s many transgressions.
It’s also the story of Westerners in the Middle East. Gin and her husband, Mason, grow up in Oklahoma, then move to Saudi Arabia in 1967 for Mason’s job with Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company. Inside the gated compound where Aramco employees live, it’s country-club suburbia. “Houseboys” tidy up; husbands go off to work; wives laze in bathing suits by the pool and have discreet affairs. [Read the full article...]
DOODLEBUGS & SPITFIRES Memories and Short Stories by Peter Carroll
“Doodlebugs & Spitfires” is a delightful collection of memories and short stories written by Peter Carroll, the author of “Queen of Misfortune,” in his trademark poetic and profoundly thoughtful style.
Most of his stories, previously published in limited form in local English newspapers and magazines, like “Brave New World”, “The Forties Street Tradesmen”, “Doodlebugs”, or “The Christmas of 43” evolve around his childhood in the Northern part of London during and after World War II. He describes the horrors that came with the V1 flying bombs, nicknamed the “Doodlebugs.” Heroic British pilots in their “Spitfire” airplanes would attempt to divert the flying bombs from the populated areas, sometimes successful, and sometimes not.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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