Erma Odrach's Reviews > Small Kingdoms

Small Kingdoms by Anastasia Hobbet
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Jan 26, 2010

it was amazing
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I own a copy

This is a brilliantly written novel set in Kuwait between the two Gulf wars. People from varying social and cultural backgrounds are brought together to join in a common cause: to help a young maid servant by the name of Santana escape from a household, where she is repeatedly starved, physically abused, and raped by her employer. In the meantime, tension in Kuwait builds as Saddam Hussein threatens another attack.

Among the characters are Mufeeda, a devout, affluent Muslim woman married to a physician, who finds herself trying to balance her own ancient customs with those of the Western world; Kit, a young, naïve American from rural Oklahoma living in Kuwait with her businessman husband and young family, who attempts to fit in; Theo, an American doctor in love with Hanaan, his beautiful and rebellious Arabic tutor, who is a Palestinian and therefore “an official nobody”; and Emmanuella, a destitute maid from Goa, who sends her meagre earnings home to support her family. It is because of Emmanuella’s secret efforts to help Santana that all the characters come together in an incredible and unlikely act of courage and selflessness.

But as the reader soon learns, Santana’s plight is not an isolated one, and there are hundreds of others just like her, often found dead. Mufeeda’s husband sets out to clarify matters: “Many in the Gulf abuse their servants, and the murderers among us are almost always protected by their status … we consider them so far beneath us … it’s as if we killed a rat or a roach.” Thanks to Anastasia Hobbet’s keen eye for detail and observation, she skillfully brings to our attention this relatively unknown form of violence and exploitation. In the meantime, as Saddam begins to make good on his threats, the dangers and dramas only escalate, and all around.

It is obvious Hobbet has a first-hand knowledge of the social and political complexities of the world she writes about; and indeed, she resided there for several years. Her compelling and powerful novel brings to life an extraordinary and trying moment in Kuwaiti history. With her compassion and piercing insight, she draws us, the readers, into the book so much so that we too want to join in and help free Santana. Hobbet is a masterful story-teller at times humorous, and her writing is both fluidly and beautifully structured. A stunning and gripping novel not to be missed.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Chrissie (new) - added it

Chrissie Erma, Mary reviewed this recently. YOUR review picqued my interest! Perhaps I will add it to my Mt. TBR.


message 2: by Tom (new)

Tom Thanks for the rec, Erma. Sounds quite interesting.


message 3: by Chrissie (new) - added it

Chrissie Am I guessing right that the description of the time and place, more than the particular plot line and characters, are what make the book a 5 star for you. Wasn't the "plot" kind of melodramatic? Or is the author so good that she handles it well?


Erma Odrach I think you'll really enjoy it, Chrissie and Tom.

Chrissie, in response to your comments: I loved the simple, unadorned prose, the diverse cast of characters, the sincere glimpses into Kuwaiti society ... And it set out to give the many household servants (especially female), who not only have their passports confiscated but are horribly abused, a voice. I tend to prefer novels depicting actual events. But that's just my preference.


message 5: by Chrissie (new) - added it

Chrissie Me too, I prefer actual events woven into a novel. Somehow I loose interest otherwise. I shelve all such novels as historical fiction to indicate that you learn of the time and place. So is it that you felt that the events in the novel represented real issues of life in Kuwit today? If you answer is yes then I must uppgrade this novel.


Erma Odrach My answer is yes, but you may not agree. Another reason I liked it was because it was written from the author's perspective (in other words, a woman's perspective), and I thought it all worked in very well.


message 7: by Chrissie (new) - added it

Chrissie Erma, none of us here at GR ever have exactly the same feelings for books. In the end we each have to decide if we think it will work for us, but it helps to ask friends that have similar preferences and understand what one means. Thanks for your help.


Erma Odrach Yes, I agree! And I love discovering books I might otherwise not notice.


message 9: by Chrissie (new) - added it

Chrissie Exactly!


message 10: by Frankie (new)

Frankie Good review. I'll check this out.


message 11: by Erma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erma Odrach Hope you do, Raskolnik. It's definitely worth it. I also liked the unexpected humor.


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