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The Ruins Of Us: A Novel [Paperback]

Keija Parssinen

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Book Description

Jan. 9 2012 P.S.
Saudi-born author Keija Parssinen’s stunning debut offers the intricate, emotionally resonant story of an American expatriate who discovers that her husband, a Saudi billionaire, has taken a second bride—an emotionally turbulent revelation that blinds them both to their teenaged son’s ominous first steps down the road of radicalization. Readers of The Septembers of Shiraz will be captivated by Parssinen’s story of love and betrayal, fundamentalism, family and country in the Middle East. Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead, hails Parssinen’s characters as “richly conceived, and her evocative petrol universe of wealth, privilege, and intrigue is unforgettable,” characterizing The Ruins of Us as having “powerful storytelling that is refreshing and entertaining.”

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (Jan. 9 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062064487
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062064486
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #767,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“Absorbing. . . . A testament to Parssinen’s literary talent, this woven narrative moves seamlessly, chapter by chapter, as the suspenseful story escalates.” (Boston Globe)

“Keija Parssinen vividly evokes daily reality in the Kingdom. . . . While she portrays the physical and social landscapes with the precision of an impassioned expat, Parssinen also limns-with a wisdom that belies her age-the culture-transcending contours of the human heart.” (National Geographic Traveler)

“Keija Parssinen was a third-generation expat in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, and she summons its atmosphere of fraught privilege in her debut novel, The Ruins of Us.” (T: The New York Times Style Magazine)

“A compelling debut.” (Marie Claire (UK))

“An intelligent, complex story of interfaith marriage. . . . That balances nail-biting tension with lyrical intent.” (The Guardian)

“Having been brought up in Saudi Arabia, [Parssinen] knows the background and writes boldly and unsentimentally of a family’s predicament at the edge of cultural fault lines.” (Sunday Times (London))

“Extraordinarily polished, supremely mature.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“[Parssinen] digs deep in this narrative, and what she unearths is exquisitely wrought.” (Columbia Daily Tribune)

The Ruins of Us is a stunning debut novel--a love story that spans continents. Parssinen teaches us that while cultural differences run deep, when it comes to matters of the heart, we are all the same. I was dazzled by this book.” (Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Close Your Eyes)

“Parssinen convincingly inhabits the shifting moods of her characters. . . . Throughout, her prose is artful without being showy, forced, or melodramatic, and her knowledge of Saudi culture informs the story. . . . A fine debut.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Parssinen’s gripping, well-crafted debut tracks the awakening of a Saudi Arabian family to the dangers that lurk within. . . . Parssinen deftly illuminates Saudi Arabian life through a family locked in a battle over morality and cultural chasms.” (Publishers Weekly)

“THE RUINS OF US tells a gripping story about Saudi Arabian princes and bureaucrats, wives and extra-wives, sons and daughters, fanatics and exiles. . . . [Keija Parssinen] directs the human and historical traffic with a maestro’s sense of pace, and a true storyteller’s sense of consequence.” (Scott Spencer, author of Man in the Woods)

“THE RUINS OF US is an arresting story of family and country. Parssinen’s characters are richly conceived and her evocative petrol universe of wealth, privilege, and intrigue is unforgettable. Powerful storytelling that is refreshing and entertaining.” (Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead)

“A big, brave novel, Keija Parssinen’s THE RUINS OF US takes us behind the compound walls of Saudi Arabia and into the secret passions that threaten to tear one family apart. Step into Parssinen’s sensual prose and be transported.” (Anna Solomon, author of The Little Bride)

“Parssinen carries the reader . . . in the grip of a story that is both entertaining and wise. . . . The debut of an enormously talented writer who is unafraid to lead us on the greatest adventure of all--into the wilds of the human heart.” (Lise Saffran, author of Juno's Daughters)

“[An] accomplished debut novel . . . clearly the work of a gifted storyteller.” (The National)

“This stunning novel explores some emotionally explosive territory--what happens when a Muslim man takes a second wife after many years of marriage to his first one. Parssinen handles it with grace, intelligence, and gorgeous prose--a transporting and beautiful book.” (Zoë Ferraris, author of Kingdom of Strangers)

From the Back Cover

More than two decades after moving to Saudi Arabia and marrying powerful Abdullah Baylani, American-born Rosalie learns that her husband has taken a second wife. That discovery plunges their family into chaos as Rosalie grapples with leaving Saudi Arabia, her life, and her family behind. Meanwhile, Abdullah and Rosalie’s consuming personal entanglements blind them to the crisis approaching their sixteen-year-old son, Faisal, whose deepening resentment toward their lifestyle has led to his involvement with a controversial sheikh. When Faisal makes a choice that could destroy everything his embattled family holds dear, all must confront difficult truths as they fight to preserve what remains of their world.

The Ruins of Us is a timely story about intolerance, family, and the injustices we endure for love that heralds the arrival of an extraordinary new voice in contemporary fiction.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  49 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book! Jan. 18 2012
By V - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a stunning, stunning debut novel. The writing in this book is just absolutely GORGEOUS. And I couldn't put it down. The plotline of an American woman whose Saudi husband has taken a second wife is totally original, and yet exposes real situations that foreign-born women are exposed to in the Middle East. The descriptions of Saudi Arabia are so incredibly detailed, I felt as if I had just traveled there when I finished the book. I LOVED this novel and am recommending it to all my friends!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ruins of Us, Keija, Parssinen July 5 2012
By thewanderingjew - Published on
This is a magnetic narrative which is wrapped around the love of an expat, Rosalie, and her Saudi husband, Abdullah. They meet as students, at a Texas University, and after they marry, Abdullah convinces Rosalie to return to his native country. She had been raised there, because her father had worked for an oil company, and needs little persuasion. The pull of the country was drawing her back and she was eager to go. Forgetting her hippy past and disregarding the lack of freedom for women, she reentered the Kingdom, making a valiant effort to live there and raise her family.
The author was also raised in Saudi Arabia, for the first 12 years of life, and she deftly shines a light on the culture, the beauty, the excesses of the royals, the oppression and the fanaticism of a government ruled dually by religion and the oil fields. It illumines the hatred for the infidels, fueled by not only the religion, but also by the extreme poverty and arrogance of the Americans, who treat them like second class citizens in their own country. The royals and those associated with the government are privileged while everyone else is in an underclass. The story shows how the ways of the old world mesh with the new, sometimes not very smoothly, sometimes causing irreparable tears in the fabric of relationships.
She exposes the threads of discontent in the poor and even the rich, the insecurities that live within the young boys that can turn them into terrorists, not even realizing the consequences of their reckless behavior. Lost and confused, they turn to the radical approach to Islam, worship their Imams and are too immature to realize the frightening implications of their behavior or the devastating consequences. They think no further than the moment and are simply not able to make rational decisions. These young rebels often observe the behavior of others, interpreting with the eye of the religious zealot, creating explanations that are misleading and overblown, which then leads them to radical retributive behavior that is not grounded in reality. Their solutions are often barbaric.
The book illustrates how the culture might encourage a misunderstood young man to commit heinous acts, in the name of his religion. It shines a light on both the privileged and underprivileged, offering explanations for how both are led down the path of radicalism by home life, greed, the political environment, deprivation, emotional neediness, and a need for structure and direction.
There were moments when the story seemed a trifle contrived and the events serendipitous, but despite this, the story is very engaging. About two thirds of the way through the book, the tension builds to a crescendo and the reader will feel real fear because the scene depicted is too close to the reality of today. We are all only too aware of the cruelty of which extremists are capable. She demonstrates how Bin Ladens might be born out of innocence and immaturity, encouraged by radical Imams who prey upon unsuspecting victims, unaware of the cost of what they might be called upon to do.
The characters are clearly defined and the author's style is inviting. You know immediately that you will enjoy the book. Parssinen wisely uses her words to demonstrate the workings of the two worlds, the Saudi and the American, as they come into conflict with each other.
It is a wonderful book for a book club. The discussions on marriage, fidelity, women's rights, counter cultures, religious freedom, democracy, family life, monogamy and freedom, to name a few, should be very entertaining and enlightening.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating Read: The Ruins of Us Jan. 26 2012
By Alexandra Rosas - Published on
As I finally closed the cover to Keija's debut novel, after staying up two nights needing to finish it, my thoughts were, "A movie. This has to be a movie." Keija's gift, to place us right in the center of each character's hearts and souls, made this a heart pounding exhilaration of a book. We never knew what choices would be made, there was no reason for so many of the events that took place: this made The Ruins of Us so perfectly possible, and so much like real life.

Apart from the dreamlike descriptions of Saudi Arabia that were so clear that I could feel the heat simmering around my face, I found myself unable to favor one character's actions over another. I turned page after page, telling myself "just a bit more and then I'll get to bed" but the lamp on my nightstand stayed on. There are unanticipated situations, one dire, in which I understand the why behind each character's decisions.

Ms. Parssinen accomplished so much more than just captivate and stun with this novel; she brought me into a world where I now see why some acts are chosen. In the adrenaline surging last chapter, what happens between Rosalie and her teen aged son is something I have quickly passed judgment on before. Though I won't ever accept his choice, I see the lifetime before him that put him in this place - where his decisions are not his to decide anymore.

A breathtaking exotic ride through a very real, very possible world.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing and fresh Nov. 6 2013
By Judithal - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There are several powerful themes explored through the splendid characterizations of the Baylani family and the their homelands. Rosalie and Abdullah Baylani meet in America when Rosalie is a free-spirited young girl singing in a night club. Rosalie had lived in Saudi Arabia when she was a child and her relationship with Abdullah takes her back to a nostalgic longing for the country of her youth. Their strong love compels Abdullah to marry her against traditions of his own family and he and Rosalie make their home in Saudi Arabia. Rosalie gives her heart to the country and we see the history, topography, climate and culture of this country through her adoring eyes. She also gives her heart to her husband and the family unit that they create, so much so, that "she dreamed in Arabic". And they lived happily ever after. Not quite.
Through this one family and an American friend of the family, Dan Coleman, the author explores changes in the family caused by both internal and external forces, including the insidious force of secrets. "Secrets need shadows to thrive, and she would shine a spotlight on the onyx pendant and what lived beneath it." Artfully explored by the author is the birthing process of religious fervor and extremism in some young men, the ties to tradition (Abdullah taking a 2nd wife), forces within a culture that push for change (Miriam, Abdullah and Rosalie's daughter, who creates a blog that seeks readers that, like herself, want changes that allow more freedom for women), and the boundaries of friendship and love. When the book ends, the ties that bind family members to one another have been redefined in heart-rending ways. "Let this be a lesson in love - that you do not always get what you want. That sometimes, you must watch your love across a murmuring sea...."
This book is a fresh, revelatory love story and a story of perceived betrayal. At times it is a mystery and at other times a thriller, but above all else it is a story of a family in transition, personally and culturally. It is also painful to read at times, and one scene is particularly nerve-wracking, but the motivations of each character are so well-developed that I felt a genuine understanding of the motivations of all of them. I felt like I knew the characters in the first few pages and now that I've finished the book, I"ll think of them many times over.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant Guide to Saudi Arabia Jan. 20 2012
By Patrick L - Published on
If you are curious to learn what's going on politico-culturally in Saudi Arabia, don't bother with boring tomes and dissertations. Reading this book will increase the knowledge of those especially interested in Saudi Arabia while entertaining themselves, while others can read it as if it were simply a refreshing novel.

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