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The Ruins of Us

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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.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2012

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About the author

Keija Parssinen

2 books47 followers
Keija Parssinen is the author of the novel The Ruins of Us, which was published in the US (HarperCollins), UK (Faber& Faber), Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Italy (Newton Compton Editori) and around the Middle East. The novel earned a Michener-Copernicus award, was long-listed for the Chautauqua Prize, was chosen as Book of the Month by National Geographic Traveler, and was selected as a Best Book of the Middle East Region 2013 by Turkey’s Today’s Zaman newspaper. In fall 2019, it was published in Arabic by the Syrian Ministry of Culture. Her second novel, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, won an Alex Award from the American Library Association, was chosen as Book of the Month by Emily St. John Mandel, and was selected as a Best Book of the Year by the Kansas City Star, Lone Star Literary Life, Missouri Life and Vox Magazine.

Her short fiction, essays and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in the New York Review of Books Daily, Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, the Lonely Planet travel-writing anthologies, World Literature Today, Slate, The Arkansas International, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Slice Magazine, Salon, Five Chapters, New Delta Review, Marie Claire, Off Assignment, and elsewhere. Her work has been supported by fellowships and residencies from Hedgebrook, the Corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Ragdale, the Vermont Studio Center, Playa Summer Lake, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities, and the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow, where she was a My Time Fellow. Keija was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there for twelve years before her family moved to Austin, Texas.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 266 reviews
Profile Image for Julia Fierro.
Author 4 books310 followers
February 2, 2012
I often hesitate before reading debut novels, but Ruins Of Us reads as if it is written by a wise and experienced writer. The characters are complex and the ideas seamlessly embedded within their actions and reactions. This was an effortless read and I was swept into the incredible landscape, but I was also inspired to think and react, which makes it a perfect read for me. Keija Parssinen's ambitious, and successful, first novel is a clear prediction of the many outstanding novels to come from this wonderful storyteller.
Profile Image for Jenny.
312 reviews17 followers
January 23, 2012
Sooo... I started reading this a while ago and I initially put it down because I had some problems with some parts of the story (I'll explain in a bit) and I really did not like the characters. That was maybe 50 pages or so in, and I considered just writing my review based on what I felt at that moment. But because of my reading slump issues from last year, and really wanting to thoroughly fulfill my obligations to TLC Book Tours, I decided to keep reading and just see if I changed my mind. But I was skeptical. And a little cynical.

And then I ended up pretty much enjoying this read. That teaches me! I'm going to include some quotes from the book because it is sort of vital to the points I want to make, but keep in mind I am quoting from an advanced copy so there might possibly be some slight changes.

The Ruins of Us tells the story of the Baylani family. American, Rosalie, and Saudi Arabian Abdullah have been married for 25 years. They have two teenagers, Faisal and Mariam. The story begins when Rosalie finds out her husband has taken a second wife and has hidden this fact from Rosalie. Although this is not uncommon to their culture, she is surprised because Abdullah was always different. Faisal is a confused teenaged boy who struggles with his bi-racial identity, sometimes resenting his mother for her causing him to not belong. He overcompensates by devoting himself to a political group and emphasizing his religious beliefs. And Mariam is a feministic teen who wants to grow up to be a journalist. She maintains a blog where she discusses issues in Saudi Arabia. There is also one other character whose perspective we hear from, Dan Coleman, who is an American friend of the family. The Ruins of Us is a portrait of the struggling marriage and how this affects the family; it's about Faisal struggling to fit in to his environment; and it's about how all these issues culminate with dangerous consequences

Although I don't feel quite as strongly about it now, I did not initially like this book because I just didn't think the characters were realistic or consistent. I couldn't figure the characters out at all. For instance, when Rosalie finds out about the second wife. Is she mad, upset, etc.? Yes. But there just didn't seem to be a gravity to it. I get that it's not totally uncommon to the culture, but for as progressive as the characters were described, it didn't make sense to me. (Honestly, it still doesn't... I think the character of Abdullah was the most inconsistent for me.) Like here, he's complaining that his wife has acclimated to the Saudi culture:

"If you're a Saudi man and you marry an American woman, the last thing you want is for her to become a Saudi wife. Otherwise, why would you go through all the trouble with the family?" (p. 41)

So, you become a "Saudi man" and marry a second wife? That seems inconsistent to me. There was another part where he was telling his friend about a girl who was flirting with him and expected him to reciprocate. The friend basically points out that well yeah, you have a reputation. And Abdullah acts all confused and says "I'm a married man." Um, hello, that didn't stop you from finding a whole new wife... And the reasons Abdullah justifies marrying a second wife are so superficial that it was hard for me to take it seriously. Yes, he felt he and his (first) wife had become distant, etc. but marrying another person? At least he acknowledged it:

He saw that now, acknowledged that he had not wanted to deal properly with the distance opening up between him and Rosalie and so had fallen back on the laws of the tribe to avoid it. (p. 104)

But more for inconsistency... in one part Abdullah gets mad at his son, and they get in a little tiff followed by this response.

"Don't speak to me like that, or you can be certain that you won't be going to any university, here or in America. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior from my son." (p. 113)

I wonder if I missed something because not only did this statement elicit confusion from me, but was the topic of university an issue? I don't know. But then, a couple pages later, Abdullah is defending his son to his wife, basically saying ah, he's just being a kid.

Then some parts were just strange...

Rosie's taste for the dramatic raised her arguments with Abdullah to a form of high art, both of them gesturing wildly. Sometimes, Abdullah would just spank her, in utter seriousness, right in front of everyone, and then they would collapse all over each other with laughter. (p. 38)

I really disliked Abdullah's character. This following passage was the clincher for me. (Abdullah thinking about Rosalie.)

Her stubbornness was starting to wear on him and a strange coldness had filled him. If that was how she wanted to behave, then he would let her. He would be patient. He had all the time in the world because he had love available to him. It was she who would grow lonely night after night in an empty bed. (p. 118)

I did find a passage I liked, though, since much of this book is about marriage and parenting:

There should be some sort of training before you got yourself mixed up in such things -- marriages and divorces and children and second marriages. He had trained for every other part of his life, football as a youth and then business and economics as an adult. Even driving required training. Yet when you married, what advice did people give? Only congratulations, and what good does that do anyone? (p. 90)

I did find, though, that I became invested in the characters. I never did grow to like any of them that much except for Mariam. (Okay, Dan grew on me too). But then the last third of the book the plot totally picked up and I devoured the book to find out what would happen. It was sort of funny because this book had some similarities to the last book I read. They were both about Muslim teen boys who are confused and take their beliefs too far.

I did think it was interesting to learn about Rosalie and her motivations for living in Saudi Arabia. She had spent time there as a child (like the author...) and had idealized it as she grew up so that once she was an adult, she wanted to live there. Yet, she was always the outsider because of her looks but also because of her beliefs. A lot of this book is about her difficulty straddling the cultural divide. I felt like I could relate to her in some of these ways.

So to conclude, I had difficult in the beginning but I'm glad I decided to read the rest. I didn't care for the characters most of the time, but I did enjoy the story. And I actually think this book would be a great read for book clubs, because there are a lot of topics that could be discussed. I have to say that I appreciated The Ruins of Us for making me think so much whether it was about the story, the characters, or the issues they all dealt with.

Taken from my blog at www.takemeawayreading.com
Profile Image for Danderma.
Author 2 books43 followers
April 5, 2012
Ever since I read about this novel in one of the UK’s magazines I had wanted to read it. The potential of the story is alluring: An American lady who married the love of her life, a Saudi billionaire, and move with him to KSA to bring up their family, discovers after 27 years of marriage that he had taken up a second younger wife. Meanwhile the couples eldest son is sixteen and has been involved with a controversial religious man.

Now the writer has a great story to write about. What would a woman do in that situation, how would she react? What demands would she make? How would she deal with the competition? Maybe what drove the man to marry the 2nd woman and what drove the 2nd woman to steal the man? How the man is lost between the two women. How jealous the 2nd woman makes the 1st one for example. We have tons of local drama series dealing with the issue but never from an American first wife point of view, it would have been interesting to see what would an American feel and do about that.

But the chapters are long. The books repeats the same things over and over and over again. Sometimes I have skipped pages because there is just too much writing, too many thoughts in the characters heads revolving around the same conclusions. The couple’s son story line would have also been very good one too except in the very last chapters he does something that is supposed to be the climax of the story but its really hard to digest. For the love of god who would do such a thing!

The ending is quite disappointing too. If anything I would say the story, though it had amazing potential, turned out to be a tad silly and boring actually. That would be the point of view of mine if I was not an Arab and a Khaleeji reader.

Now as an Arab some things were insulting even though I am not really a sensitive reader. Someone should also explain the Quran better to the writer and possibly the meaning of some Arabic words used in the dialogue like the overuse of the word “ya” and erm, the “shit” word in Arabic.

In any case I don’t suppose I would be reading it again. I had a hard time finishing the book in the first place.
Profile Image for Anna.
Author 7 books284 followers
July 25, 2019
This is an incredibly ambitious first novel, and Parssinen delivers a big cast of fully-rendered, lovable, and flawed characters whose secrets and desires threaten to destroy them. It's set in Saudi Arabia, yes, and many of the conflicts are particular to this place and culture - yet the humanity on display here is far more universal. A vivid, moving book.
Profile Image for Nina.
80 reviews15 followers
January 11, 2012
Disclaimer: I received an ARC e-galley of this book through NetGalley.

It would be easy for a novel written by an American writer about an American woman who married a Saudi man and moved to Saudi Arabia, only to discover years later that he had taken a second wife, to sink into a dramatic focus on mistreatment of women. However, this novel rises above that. Born to an expatriate family in Saudi Arabia, Keija Parssinen is the perfect person to tell this story. No, things are not equal between men and women in Saudi Arabia. But there is a reason the US Department of State has a page detailing the reality of being a Saudi wife for Americans who are considering this life -- despite the reputations and stereotypes, this country and culture has an allure that draws people to it. This novel explores that allure.

The writing is gorgeous, full of elegantly written descriptions. It is definitely a character-driven book, though, and in order to really like it, you must be okay with a good deal of backstory and a plot that doesn't always move forward quickly. The third person narration also switches between the perspectives of most of the major characters, so it is necessary to like or be interested in most of them. I personally found the characters to be interesting, if not all likable.

Most interesting to me was the character of Faisal, Abdullah and Rosalie's son, who gets caught up in a Muslim extremist group. There is a comparable character in the movie "Circumstance" who turns to fundamentalism, but his reasons for doing so are never truly revealed. In contrast, Faisal's motivations are easy to relate to. He is a confused teenager who has always had trouble fitting in. He wants something pure and good to believe in. And as he crosses the boundary into adulthood and realizes that his parents are not perfect, he uses religious self-righteousness to reject them.

All of the characters are, for the most part, well-meaning. But their occasional ill-thought mistakes, selfishness, and lack of communication slowly tear down the happy life they sought to build. They had me rooting for them to succeed each step of the way, even though it became clear that once the threads are too tangled, there is no simple happy ending.

This would be a great book club book, as there are many topics and character motivations that would be interesting to discuss.
Profile Image for Mary Ann.
412 reviews37 followers
December 13, 2021
This is a lovely novel. The plot is fairly simple and straightforward and arose from the author's own experience of her birth and early upbringing in Saudi Arabia of an American ex-pat family and their subsequent move to the U.S. which left her with memories of and a yearning for the desert country.

The characters are beautifully drawn and have an inner consistency and integrity. While I found many of them difficult to like, I could easily empathize with them all from the willful Rosalie, the wife and mother, Abdullah, the self-entitled husband and billionaire oil sheikh, Dan, the best friend who is something of a loser, to the children, the bright and eager Mariam and the disaffected, alienated Faisal who is rapidly becoming radicalized in his post-9/11 country and the limitless wealth excesses of the ruling family.

It's very well-written in a sophisticated style which is rich without being florid. To my delight, the grammar and punctuation is impeccable, and I smiled to see that the author has a healthy respect for the subjunctive which is getting rare use these days. I highly recommend this debut novel.
Profile Image for Linda.
331 reviews30 followers
April 11, 2014
Growing up in an expatriate family in Saudi Arabia afflicts the main character Rosalie in many ways. She isn't able to find her place when returning to America, and for many years she dreams about the land of the dunes. When, many years later, she meets Abdullah, a Saudi sheik, and moves back to the Kingdom to start a family, she can finally breathe. Furthermore, being the wife of one of the richest men in the world has its advantages and there is nothing missing in her life. However, many years later, Abdullah marries a second wife, and Rosalie wonders how well she really knows her husband and where her real home is.

The book contains many interesting topics, and religion and culture make up a great deal of the story, hidden in causes and reflections, especially regarding the son, Faisal, and his religious struggle that escalates until it involves the whole family. The daughter, Mariam, is a fascinating and inspiring character that deserves much more space.

My whole review
Profile Image for Denise.
6,359 reviews103 followers
October 31, 2018
Twentyseven years after she left Texas behind to marry the love of her life and follow him to his home in Saudi Arabia, Rosalie finds out that her husband has taken a second wife, much to the consternation of everyone around him and her own anger and sorrow. While she struggles with the implications of this revelation, feeling like what she thought of as her perfect marriage and family are slowly disintegrating before her eyes, the couple's two teenaged children are pulled into opposite directions of their multicultural heritage, with their son Faisal having fallen under the influence of a fundamentalist preacher while their daughter Mariam engages in activism for women's rights.

A complex, engaging, wonderfully crafted tale that succeeds perfectly in bringing its settings and characters alive, easily pulled me in and didn't let go.
Profile Image for thewanderingjew.
1,503 reviews19 followers
July 6, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Barbara.
960 reviews122 followers
June 23, 2019
What would you do if you found out that your husband of more than 25 years, the father of your two teen-aged children and the man for whom you gave up your family (shabby as they might have been) and your country, had a new woman? Get angry, call a lawyer, grab the kids and run for the hills? Any of those would be completely justifiable reactions but things are a little different for Rosalie. Her husband Abdullah is a wealthy man, well connected with a powerful family and – drum roll for the punchline – he’s a Saudi living in Saudi Arabia and legally speaking he’s not only entitled to take a second wife (or a third or a fourth, and with some flexible interpretation of the Koran, even more) but he gets the kids. No discussion, no debate, the kids stay with their father. And if the father dies, they go to one of his male relatives. The mother is an almost total irrelevance. The simple tale of boy meets girl, they fall in love, marry and move to Saudi Arabia is a little more complex than your standard ‘mid-life crisis cheating husband’ scenario.

Feisty Texan redhead Rosalie was a wild child when she met Abdullah. She was working in a bar, studying part-time and raising hell. He was charming, handsome and – the least believable part for me – she wanted to go back to Saudi and he was a route to achieving that. Unlikely as it sounds, Rosalie yearns for the desert kingdom of her childhood, the land where her oil-company father and her mother gave birth to her and raised her in the oil company compound. I struggled to believe any western woman would actually want to move back to Saudi but that’s Rosalie’s backstory. Her children – Faisal and Mariam – are Saudi born and bred, living a privileged life within the obvious constraints of one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. Mariam rebels by sewing beads on her abaya and writing a blog whilst Faisal is struggling to deal with the shame of having an American mother. He falls in with a radical cleric, rejecting his own ancestry and feeling ashamed of his mother’s American roots and his father’s drinking and womanising.

Rosalie finds out what Abdullah has done when a jeweller recognises her name on her credit card and asks if she liked the anniversary present he supplied to her husband in December, an onyx pendant. Rosalie hates onyx and her anniversary is in the summer. The penny drops and she knows he has a second wife. It must be a very Saudi thing that this should be the first instinctive reaction. It soon turns out that the Islamic rule that you can have more than one wife but you have to treat them equally doesn’t extend to being equally honest with the two. By the time Rosalie works out what’s going on, Abdullah has been married to Palestinian Isra, glamorous wife number two, for over two years without ever quite getting round to telling Rosalie.

Issues around her husband’s state-approved infidelity are soon sidelined when things get much more complicated. A family friend and fellow American, Dan Coleman, gets a little too close to Rosalie much to the ire of her husband who clearly had his senses of both perspective and of irony surgically removed at birth. How dare this man step onto his territory? And then even that affront gets sidelined when mild-mannered Faisal is sucked into direct action against the infidel, accidentally drawing Rosalie into the plot.

I am fascinated and horrified by the way women are treated in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and irresistibly drawn to books set in that country. No matter how many I read there are always new abuses to turn my stomach and make me wonder how it can be that we just sit back and let this continue. Of course, I know the answer – these guys have oil and ‘the West’ will let them do whatever they like and to hell with anything that might smack of human rights. I was aware of the law that men can take additional wives (even ‘temporary wives’ if they want to use prostitutes) and that children are the property of their fathers but ‘The Ruins of Us’ brings a higher level of reality to those laws, taking them out of the theoretical and into the realms of watching a ‘friend’ tackle them directly. The Ruins of Us is set in the Saudi Arabia of the wealthy, the people living a privileged life, able to escape the country when they’re desperate for booze and fun or to take their holidays in the world’s most exclusive resorts. It’s clearly a very different life than that of the average Saudi in the street and a world apart from the lives of poor immigrant workers but that doesn’t make it any the less interesting. What the book shows us is that all that wealth in the world isn’t worth a hoot if your husband has gone off with another woman and you’ve no authority to take the kids with you if you leave. Heck, you can’t even get the ticket to fly out of the country without his signature to say you are ‘allowed’ to leave.

Keija Parssinen was born in Saudi Arabia in 1980, the third generation of her family in the country. Her grandfather and grandmother had moved to the country in the 1950s, brought up their children and grandchildren. Keija was 12 when she left the country and like the protagonist of ‘The Ruins of Us’ she knew and loved the country of her childhood. Like Rosalie, she moved to Texas but unlike Rosalie, her website shows she’s a blonde, not a redhead and she’s married to an American, not a heart-breakingly fickle Saudi.

‘The Ruins of Us’ offers a glimpse at both the expat life via Dan Coleman, and the privileged life of the rich natives, via Abdullah. Rosalie has the unusual position of being neither native nor expat. It also offers insights into life in the Kingdom in the post 9/11 era, a time when kidnappings, killings and the rise of radical Islam have an impact on everyone living there. We see Dan the expat pushed around by his wealthy colleague, despised by his colleague’s son, lonely and lacking the money he’d need to head home and set up again after his divorce. We see Rosalie torn between her ideas of how an American and how a Saudi should act and worrying over the damage her marriage breakdown is causing to her children. The storyline takes a turn for the bizarre in the second half when events out in the desert dip into the slightly less believable, but the ending when it comes is somehow both unexpected and, when you stop to think about it, oddly predictable.

Recommendation? - Don't marry a Saudi, that's my recommendation

This is an easy read, a mid-life crisis with quite a lot of differences, but at heart a story about a marriage in meltdown and the way it impacts on all of the family. It’s not a book of great literary merit, it won’t win any awards, but if you have an interest in the perverted and corrupt ways of Saudi society and don’t mind being sickened by state-sponsored abuse of anyone who lacks a Y-chromosome, then this might be the book for you.
Profile Image for Meg - A Bookish Affair.
2,444 reviews197 followers
January 7, 2012
This book is really about a family going in all different directions from each other. Abdullah has entered a new marriage with his second wife. His first wife (who he is still married to), American-born Rosalie, finds out on accident that he has married another woman. Meanwhile, Rosalie and Abdullah's son, Faisal, is moving towards extremism with a radical shiekh while their daughter, Mariam, is rebelling in her own way. No member of this family seems to know what is going on with the other. They are truly falling apart.

This story is definitely intriguing and kept me reading. Saudi Arabia is a very fascinating country and it was interesting to see how Rosalie, an American woman, adapted to a country where women have very little freedom. One of Abdullah's gripes with her is that she's lost a lot of the American ways that he liked about her when he first married her and has assimilated to the ways of the Saudis.

One thing that I wish the author had done was to write more about the motives of the different characters. Why would Abdullah do something as extreme as marry another woman without his wife knowing? Why does Faisal do what he does towards the end of the book (sorry for the vagueness but I don't want to give anything away)? I would have also liked to know more about what made the characters tick. How did Rosalie feel coming to a country like Saudi Arabia? Even with these questions that I have, this book was still an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Sarah.Aldahas.
309 reviews24 followers
August 23, 2013
Have you ever read a book so fast because there was a story but the writing was really boring and you wanted to know what will happen at the end? That was my case with this book. I finished it in 3 days even though I didn't enjoy reading it at all.

There is a story about an American lady who fell in love with a Saudi man, married him and went back to his country to spend the rest of her life and raise their children. After years of living together, she finds out that her husband is married to another woman and haven't told her for 2 years. The story is about the American lady's reaction, action and what she will do or won't. How his 2nd marriage ruined their lives and their children's, what will happen next and how they will they continue living together after what happened.

There's a story but the writer failed to express the characters wisely. i felt detached from every single character, couldn't feel them at all. I haven't felt pity towards the American wife nor anger towards husband. The children's situation didn't affect me at all.

Profile Image for Jean Blackwood.
186 reviews3 followers
June 23, 2013
This is a really wonderful book. The family portrays the anguish of the US-Mideast conflicts in microcosm, but because the author lets us see into the hearts and minds of each member the conflicts are human and complex, with no clear good guys and bad guys and no clear solutions.

It is quite amazing to me that such a young author has such empathy and insight into people of different ages, genders, and cultures. She brings all of them fully to life and makes us sympathize with both their strengths and weaknesses.

The Ruins of Us has been chosen as our community One Read book here in Columbia, Missouri. We are fortunate to have Keija Parssinen as a Columbia resident. Discussions and programs about the book and related issues should be outstanding this fall and I am really looking forward to them, as well as meeting this author.
Profile Image for Lindsey Rowe.
37 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2013
I wish I could give 4.5 stars because, while I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I save 5 for my absolute, all time favorites. This novel gives a personalized glimpse into a very foreign culture, through richly developed characters. The plot gains steady momentum, culminating into a suspenseful denouement (that's for you, Mom!). I sat there reading while my kids hung from the ceiling fan. Definitely worth reading.
Profile Image for Stacia.
73 reviews1 follower
July 9, 2013
This book was captivating. It allowed me a glimpse into a very unknown world. So richly and beautifully written. I highly recommend this!!
Profile Image for Zainab Bint Younus.
196 reviews228 followers
April 27, 2019
Compelling, rich, deeply emotional and without ever falling into the lazy tropes and stereotypes that are so easy to latch onto whenever Saudi Arabia comes into play - this book is incredible.
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
November 26, 2018
Keija Parssinen delivers an insightful view into the life of an American woman, Rosalee, who meets a college student, who is a Saudi Arabian. After a torrid affair (which was not equivalent, to less descriptive romance novels bodice ripping), they do marry and move to Saudi Arabian, so he can work in his father's empire. This book focuses on the Saudi culture in a gentle light overall. It is a story of family relationships within the Kingdom and the impact of this outsider's experiences. Furthermore, it explores the children's experiences and reactions to having an American mother, which is not ideal among their friends.

Without ruining the plot, this story is mainly focused on love and loss. It was very predictable to me (though it may not be for those who have not been exposed to Middle Eastern cultures). I have known women and men from various countries in the Middle East. Likewise, I have read other stories about this region, including Saudi Arabia (fiction and autobiography). I read it through page 132 and found that it was too dry and too predictable for me. Though it is 352, I felt that perhaps the story could have been edited a tad more. More importantly for me, I didn't connect with the characters. Abdullah, the husband seemed very accurately drawn based on the two U.S. female friends that married and divorced their husbands for extreme behaviors (some of which Abdullah does in the story). The dispassionate narrator doesn't make judgements, instead we are observers to the issues facing various characters. The other characters were equally flat and average.

To be fair, I think this is a good fictional representation of life abroad in the Middle East. I just didn't feel compelled to read further, it was too predictable for me and the foreshadowing obvious. For those interested, I highly recommend Jean Sasson's "Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia". She has written other books, I have read several quite some time ago, so the specific titles escape my memory. Note: Jean Sasson's books are not popular with Muslim's based on the comments of her books. Those from American and European cultures tend to embrace her stories stating that her books are very accurate.
Profile Image for Alessandro Argenti.
251 reviews4 followers
May 28, 2018
Assolutamente no. Riassunto di quello che accade da pagina 1 a pagina 200: una donna scopre che il marito ha un'amante. E questo viene svelato già a pagina 5. Il resto è noia. Dopodiché riacquista vigore per le successive due facciate, per ripiombare desolatamente nel nulla totale. Fino ad un inconcludente finale. Un dialogo, seguito da paragrafi infiniti di pensieri, sul passato, su nostalgie, su memorie, un altro dialogo e via con altre digressioni. Quasi illeggibile. Ottimo per addormentarsi prima di dormire.
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 27 books293 followers
October 22, 2011
This is not about the ruins of just "us." It's about the ruins of a family. Who'd have thunk that taking on another wife could lead to so many problems? (sarcasm)
Abdullah is the head of the family and rather than fix his relationship with his longtime American wife, Rosalie, he takes another wife and sets her up in a house down the street. According to Saudi law, this is okay. According to Rosalie, it is not. When the secret is revealed to the rest of the family, everything comes to a head.

Abdullah must slowly admit that he fell out of love with Rosalie because she no longer acts American. Rosalie admits that she fell in love with Saudi Arabia more than Abdullah. She struggled to fit in and be loved in a foreign country.. thus the loss of her Americanism. The children, Mariam and Faisal have their own issues. Faisal has been shunned and treated like crap overseas since 9/11. He comes home and finds acceptance in a group of extremists and replaces his unhappy home life with religion.. that he takes a bit too far. Mariam.. I wish there was more about Mariam. I loved her character, what little there was of it. she's a revolutionary, arguing for the rights of women and starting a blog.

Very good story with lots of hidden messages about how things we do or say have a domino effect. But I didn't care for the characters much at all. (Quibble number one.) Rosalie stays with that jerk??? Ugh. Abdullah isn't there for his family at all. When one woman displeases him, he goes to the other's bed. Faisal is a little terrorist. (Will he see the error of his ways? I'm not saying.) Dan is obsessed with his ex wife and read more into Rosalie's actions than is there. I think had there been more of Mariam, I would have been more pleased. Also wouldn't have minded seeing things from the "other wife's" POV too.

Quibble two: Bit drawn out as it gets into the characters' pasts.

Favorite quote:

"There should be some sort of training before you got yourself mixed up in such things-marriages and divorces and children and second marriages. He had trained for every part of his life, football as a youth and then business and economics as an adult. Even driving required training. Yet when you are married, what advice did people give? Only congratulations, and what good does that do anyone?"

Very true. (That quote could be changed before publication.)

Three stars. Good look at modern day Saudi life and times and how a family can crumble under one person's mistake.
Profile Image for Jill Orr.
Author 7 books128 followers
March 15, 2012
Keija Parssinen’s captivating debut novel, The Ruins of Us, explores the universal themes of love, betrayal, and resiliency set against the backdrop of modern Saudi Arabian culture. American-born Rosalie Al-Baylani lives a comfortable life in Saudi Arabia. She loves her husband, adores her children, and has grown accustomed to being a wife and a mother in the country she has been fascinated with since she was a girl. But Rosalie’s life is shattered when she learns that her husband of 25 years, the wealthy and powerful Saudi, Abdullah Al-Baylani, has taken a second wife and kept it secret from her for the past two years.

A heavy curtain of heartbreak, bitterness, and isolation falls over the Al-Baylani family as they struggle to make sense of their new reality. Taking a second wife is a man’s legal right in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but Rosalie always thought her Abdullah far too modern and far too devoted to do such a thing. While Rosalie is incapacitated from grief, and Abdullah from denial, the couple’s 16 year old son, Faisal, seeks comfort in a Muslim fundamentalist group with controversial, even violent, ideologies.

This gripping story follows Rosalie as she struggles with fear, country, and conscience to make the heart-wrenching choices that will determine her fate and that of her family.

Parssinen, who grew up as a third generation expatriate in Saudi Arabia, deftly reveals the intricate, and at times messy, emotional lives of her characters, while providing an education on the culture and mores of contemporary Saudi life. Her rich, evocative prose is part love-letter to the land where she was born, and part critical study of its complexities. At the hands of Parssinen’s skillful exposition, the reader becomes intimately acquainted with the character’s most profound and visceral desires, particularly in the case of Rosalie, Faisal, and the finely-drawn Dan. However, as the story rises to its harrowing climax - and readers turn pages faster and faster -they might just find that, much like the characters themselves, they are unsure of what they want to happen next.

There is so much to love about this book. There is the intriguing story, the graceful language, the authentically flawed characters - but one fact stands out among the rest: the only thing black and white about this novel is the ink and paper upon which it’s printed. You will find yourself thinking about The Ruins of Us long after you put it down. So be sure to pick it up.
Profile Image for Evelyn.
416 reviews19 followers
July 30, 2012
Nice surprise. I picked this one up at the airport, drawn to it because it took place in Saudi Arabia, a place I'm curious about but not in any way drawn to. It's the first book by this writer and it was impressive. Beautiful, lyrical writing, and something of a strange fever-dream feeling if I'm being honest.

The story centers around the deterioration of a 27 year marriage between Rosalie, a spirited American woman and Abdullah, a wealthy Saudi man who thinks himself modern and enlightened, but as he ages reverts back to his cultural default. Rosalie has moved to Saudi Arabia for her husband and has worked hard to accommodate to the norms, customs and requirements of the Saudi kingdom, no easy task for an independent woman in the oppressive, repressive Arabian kingdom.

The book opens with Rosalie discovering that her husband has--unbeknownst to her--took a second wife two years previous...the book follows the rapid deterioration of the marriage and the consequences for both the couple and their two children.

The details of life in Saudi Arabia is absorbing, as are the descriptions of the desert and life in this highly religious Muslim enclave. The story is absorbing, though the end is probably a bit too predictable. Overall though an interesting read and an admirable first effort.
Profile Image for Lise Saffran.
Author 1 book13 followers
October 28, 2011
I loved this book. I am a sucker for novels set in locales with which I am not familiar, but that draw me in by getting me involved in the characters' emotional struggles. It's a great feeling to pick up a book and expect to be taken somewhere new and then realize that while you have been, one of the places you have been taken is inside yourself! I found all the characters interesting and plausible, but was particularly invested in Rosalie, both because I recognized her anguish as a mother and a wife in the present, as well as her longing for the vanished past. Unlike the author, whose bio will tell you that she spent her early years in Saudi Arabia, my own longing is not attached to a country that is ambivalent (to say the least) about me. Yet, the past is unreachable for all of us--and the future is at times both frightening and full of promise. The novel captured that very well.
Profile Image for Erica.
465 reviews226 followers
October 26, 2011
I read this a while ago, but it wasn't up yet on goodreads so I'm just adding it in now. But I'm going through the trouble of adding it in because I really enjoyed it. It's the story of an American woman married to a Saudi Arabian man who finds out that he's taken a second wife. Even though it takes place in Saudi Arabia and not India, it really reminded me of the writing of Thrity Umrigar in the way it explored the things that make a foreign place both so strange and so familiar, and the way it explored the feelings of a woman whose actions might be hard for someone living in New York City to understand.
45 reviews
September 14, 2013
I read this book because it is our community's One Read selection for 2013. Based on a few reviews and several friends' lukewarm comments, I did not expect to enjoy it. What a pleasant surprise to find that it was an engrossing read. It deals with many complex issues - family, different cultures, raising children - with a realistic, honest approach. In addition, it is suspenseful so that I wanted to keep reading. The descriptions were clear, uncluttered, without being too lean. I thought the author's writing style was well- matched to her subject.
Profile Image for HENRY VIERI.
2 reviews
November 5, 2012
THis is a pleasant read with interesting characters and a story set in the oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Rosalie, even after decades of living in Saudi Arabia with her husband, finds that there are still some aspects of the culture she can't get used to, like her husband taking a second wife, which is so ordinary for the native people but unacceptable for ROsalie.

YOu will surely enjoy reading this wonderful book!
Profile Image for Steve.
21 reviews7 followers
February 13, 2012
A beautiful debut novel from an author I look forward to reading in the years to come. In The Ruins of Us, Keija Parssinen proves it is possible in the literary fiction universe for character and plot to coexist peacefully ( not to mention pretty damn exquisitely!). A truly spectacular read. Come for the prose, stay for the jihad! (The blurb is yours to use, Harper Perennial.)
Profile Image for Carina Burns.
Author 2 books10 followers
July 18, 2012
As a former resident of Jeddah, I was eager to delve into this book. From the beginning I loved it. Beautifully written, fascinating characters and the universal themes kept me captivated right up to the end. Chock full of love, family, betrayal and anger. Great intrigue and romance!!!! ABSOLUTELY LOVED this story.
595 reviews2 followers
December 19, 2020
Keija Parssinen's novel is a bit off the beaten path from my usual readings. It is current fiction, set very much in the present, but in Saudi Arabia. This is only natural as Parssinen is herself Saudi-born. The protagonist is Rosalie al-Baylani, the American wife of a Saudi billionaire, whose world is upended when she discovers that her husband has taken a second wife.

Ruins of Us is the story of how she navigates these new and fearful waters, but more importantly it is the story of love, of choices, and of memory. Through Rosalie, Parssinen powerfully explores the essence of choice: what it is to make a choice, how one weighs past and present and future when doing so, and how each choice, no matter how small, is connected to the larger whole of one's life.

Each of the characters, of whom there are primarily five, are well created. These are full-blooded people, complex in nature, and utterly human. They range from 14-year-old Mariam al-Baylani, who years for just a bit more freedom, to her older brother, Faisal, who flirts dangerously with the thrills of extremism. The al-Baylani family feels real and complete, awful and wonderful, loving and resentful. They are, in short, all of the things that real families are at one time or another.

I must confess, given how much I loved the first nine-tenths of the book, I was deeply disappointed in the last 20-odd pages. I felt that Parssinen worked too quickly to wrap up the story after its climax. I would have liked to read more about how the relationships evolved and, particularly in the case of Rosalie, how she determined to make her choice.
Profile Image for Polly Summers.
29 reviews4 followers
May 11, 2019
**3.5 Stars**
This is very much a book you would pick up at an airport, binge-read on the plane and then go about your vacation.
From the beginning, I was captivated by Rosalie's story. I needed to know how she dealt with her marriage, family, and entire world getting torn apart, how she balanced her own needs with being a mother, and if she was able to heal and grow throughout the course of the novel. As such, I quickly sped through this novel. I was largely focused on Rosalie and her children's story and struggled to connect with any of the other characters. (I must say I never really 'got' Dan or really his necessity of being in this book.)
This meant that when I reached the ending, I was hoping for substance in character development and I was greatly disappointed. I know that I am biased in that I prefer concrete endings, but I was still hoping for a bit more of Rosalie's story at the end. It seemed very rushed, with only the last two pages being from her perspective, while everyone else got a decently solid ending.
All in all when I finished the book, I was left unsatisfied. It's definitely an interesting read and the setting is brilliantly described. However, the characters could have been developed more, the transition between narrations smoother and the ending more focused on (presumably) the main character Rosalie.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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