The Ruins of Us (Paperback)

By Keija Parssinen

Harper Perennial, 9780062064486, 352pp.

Publication Date: January 17, 2012

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Description

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."


Praise For The Ruins of Us

“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



Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. The Ruins of Us is a fascinating twist on the infidelity story in that Abdullah is in some sense justified in his decision to take a second wife. What would you have done if you were in Rosalie’s shoes? Do you believe Abdullah truly thought he could have both Rosalie and Isra, or do you agree with Faisal when he says to Abdullah, “I pity you . . . You have forgotten what family means” (p. 217)?
  2. On p. 76, Faisal expresses his hope that Abdullah can teach Faisal how to operate “in the world of men.” Did you view the world portrayed in the novel as a world of men? And how does this world—and Abdullah’s teaching of Faisal—impact the fates of the characters?
  3. The title, The Ruins of Us, echoes throughout the book (even in Abdullah’s musings about the erosion of age on p. 319). Who do you read as “us”? Describe the ways that you see the title applying to various situations and characters.
  4. Physical signifiers play a symbolic role for certain characters: Majid’s scar, Rosalie’s red hair, Abdullah’s prosthesis. How did these visuals inform your reading of the characters’ personalities? And how did your initial view of these characters evolve as the story progressed?
  5. The geography of the Gulf comes alive through the novel’s prose—the dry heat, the desert, the sea. Did you read the expansiveness of the landscape in sync with the characters’ inner lives, or in juxtaposition? Explain your answer.
  6. Abdullah criticizes Rosalie for surrendering to her surroundings and losing herself in certain Saudi ways. Do you agree with his assessment? Do you think it’s possible for expatriates to maintain their “native” ways of life in a foreign land?
  7. On p. 100, Abdullah ruminates, “People changed over time and love vanished without warning, without mercy.” Do you see vanishing love as the cause for the schism between Abdullah and Rosalie? Can you think of times in your own life when this statement has proven true?
  8. How did you read the nature of Dan and Rosalie’s relationship? What do you think they needed, and gained, from each other? What do you imagined would have happened had their plan worked?
  9. Did you identify with Rosalie’s “mysterious child-love for a left-behind place that’s larger than the time spent there” (p. 141)? Can you think of a place that has held the same significance for you?
  10. The Ruins of Us features very timely themes of intolerance, martyrdom, and political changes in the Middle East. How did the novel make you think differently about 9/11, terrorism, and Saudi Arabia? Could you be sympathetic to Faisal and Majid in spite of their violence?
  11. All of the characters view the relationship between faith and modernism differently. Based on what’s in these pages, do you see the two as complementing each other or as conflicting tenets? If you could write the future for these characters in Saudi Arabia after the novel’s end, what would it look like?
  12. The matter of “home” and “country” is paramount to the novel and to the characters. Where do you think “home” is for Dan, Rosalie, and Abdullah? When Faisal walks through an American airport he thinks, “Imagine. To live out your life in a country not your own. Imagine it.” Can you imagine it? If Abdullah hadn’t strayed, do you think Rosalie could have easily lived out her life in Saudi Arabia?
  13. The last scene leaves Rosalie’s path somewhat unknown. What do you anticipate is her next move? What would your ideal ending for her look like?
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