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In the Kingdom of Men

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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 h 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.


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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 h 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.

30 review for In the Kingdom of Men

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jacki (Julia Flyte)

    Wow! This book starts so well. Ginny's voice as narrator is alive and engaging, her childhood is intriguing, there's the promise of a mystery concerning a drowned woman. But the liveliness doesn't last. Ginny is a self-centered character who is near impossible to like and the mystery takes forever to get going before being resolved in a sketchy way without any real answers. The story is about Ginny's experience living in a compound in Saudi Arabia in 1967 while her husband works for an Arab-Ameri Wow! This book starts so well. Ginny's voice as narrator is alive and engaging, her childhood is intriguing, there's the promise of a mystery concerning a drowned woman. But the liveliness doesn't last. Ginny is a self-centered character who is near impossible to like and the mystery takes forever to get going before being resolved in a sketchy way without any real answers. The story is about Ginny's experience living in a compound in Saudi Arabia in 1967 while her husband works for an Arab-American oil company. "Gin" was raised by her very religious grandfather, gets pregnant young and marries Mason as a way to escape her life. After the loss of the baby, the couple move to a luxurious house in Saudi Arabia where the previously very sheltered Gin evolves almost immediately into someone who chain smokes, drinks heavily, treats others rudely and dresses inappropriately. She expresses a desire to get to know and understand the country better, but does this by ignoring every convention about how women should behave, dressing pretty much as she likes and getting herself into situations that could cause serious problems for the people around her, whose feelings she never takes into account. I heartily disliked her. I could have tolerated this better - you don't have to like your narrator - if the story had gone somewhere. But the mystery (which concerns her husband investigating corruption in his company) takes forever to get started and then evolves in a very casual way, almost as a throwaway sub-plot while Gin charges around Saudi Arabia breaking conventions left, right and centre. At the end, we find out whose body was in the water (and why), but the way it ties back to the main story is tenuous at best. What's annoying is that there was so much potential here. Great start, great setting, interesting time in history. It feels like the author was trying to cover too many bases, to write a woman's liberation story combined with a romance combined with a historical evaluation of the US in Saudi Arabia combined with a thriller combined with ... well you get the picture. It's none of these things really. It's readable, but not much more.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andi Stubbs

    Based on the awesome first paragraph of this book, I really had high hopes for it. But I really didn't like how the heroine of the story transformed so quickly into a booze-guzzling housewife, and I found myself bored about halfway through and struggled to finish it. The first paragraph discusses that her husband was accused of murder, but the murder doesn't happen until the very end of the book... and it feels like the author was desperate to wrap things up quickly, because it was a rushed and Based on the awesome first paragraph of this book, I really had high hopes for it. But I really didn't like how the heroine of the story transformed so quickly into a booze-guzzling housewife, and I found myself bored about halfway through and struggled to finish it. The first paragraph discusses that her husband was accused of murder, but the murder doesn't happen until the very end of the book... and it feels like the author was desperate to wrap things up quickly, because it was a rushed and very disappointing ending. I would have preferred to have seen Gin struggle a bit more with the dichotomy between her "red-dirt Oklahoma" upbringing and the marble floors of her Aramco home. It would have been nice if the author had allowed us to work through the details of the murder and decide on our own if Mason was guilty or not. I won't spoil the ending, but really? What a cop-out to leave things the way she did. If only the entire book was as spellbinding as the first paragraph, but alas... it was not.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alesa

    This is a novel about Aramco, the oil company in Saudi Arabia with which I was an oil wife for five years. The story takes place in the late 1960s, about 12 years before my time. It is set in Abqaiq, where I lived for three months. So everything about it was really familiar to me. The author does a very good job of describing life in an oil camp, and the odd sense of danger one feels most of the time while living in the Kingdom. She has great details. Sometimes I felt like she was overwriting, in This is a novel about Aramco, the oil company in Saudi Arabia with which I was an oil wife for five years. The story takes place in the late 1960s, about 12 years before my time. It is set in Abqaiq, where I lived for three months. So everything about it was really familiar to me. The author does a very good job of describing life in an oil camp, and the odd sense of danger one feels most of the time while living in the Kingdom. She has great details. Sometimes I felt like she was overwriting, in that there were just so many verbs that she forced. However, the plot was gripping. The book brought up a lot of things for me, though, and made me revisit my years there. I'd forgotten about how the men sort of let their power there go to their heads, and the incredible boredom that so many of the wives faced. It left me feeling oddly depressed. However, for anybody who has lived in an Aramco camp, I heartily recommend the book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sam Woodfield

    So I'm a little confused about how I feel about this novel, being unsure if I enjoyed it or not, and thats quite an unusual feeling having just read a book - I normally know what I think and find it easy to say if I like it or not, but this has confused me. The novel follows Gin McPhee and her husband Mason as they move from middle America to Arabia in the early days of oil drilling in the Gulf. As Mason is away for long periods on the rig, Gin has to adjust to life as an American wife in an Isla So I'm a little confused about how I feel about this novel, being unsure if I enjoyed it or not, and thats quite an unusual feeling having just read a book - I normally know what I think and find it easy to say if I like it or not, but this has confused me. The novel follows Gin McPhee and her husband Mason as they move from middle America to Arabia in the early days of oil drilling in the Gulf. As Mason is away for long periods on the rig, Gin has to adjust to life as an American wife in an Islamic state, and the confinement this brings. However, unhappy with being cooped up in a compound, Gin begins to push the limits of what she can get away with, and finds herself, and those around them in trouble, and as Mason uncovers dodgy dealings within the oil company, things take a turn which will change their lives forever. The start of this novel is full of promise. The opening lines of "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 said she did" really set this up to be a gripping novel, with elements of murder mystery throughout, and I was really excited by the prospect of reading the novel. So when I got half way through and had no whif of mystery I started to wain a little, three-quarters of the way and I was almost disengaged. So when there finally was some twist to the story, I was not interested and really disappointed with the course it took. But here is my confusion - I really loved the characters in this novel. I thought Gin was a really interesting woman, and those people around her within the compound - the other wives, the houseboys and Bedouin men - were really fascinating and really drew me into life within the compound. I thought the detail of life for women within that environment was really interesting, and the ways in which Gin pushed the boundaries of women can and can't do really got me interested in the story. I loved it! So for me, the issue with this novel is the promise that the opening brings which takes so long to materialise it's flat when it does, because without this, it's a really brillinat novel about the lives of women in that time and place and is really engaging. I think the twist would work if it weren't for the promise of so much. And so thats why I'm confused, because I loved this novel but at the same time really felt disappointed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    The first two sentences of In the Kingdom of Men give us a portrait of the narrator and the mystery she sets out to reveal: 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. It’s a powerful opening, one of the finest I’ve rea The first two sentences of In the Kingdom of Men give us a portrait of the narrator and the mystery she sets out to reveal: 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. It’s a powerful opening, one of the finest I’ve read. In two short paragraphs, the reader has an image of the storyteller—a barefoot girl—who has experienced a significant change in fortune—from red-dirt Oklahoma to marble floors—that includes an exotic location--the Arabian shore—and tragedy. It’s impossible not to be hooked before you’ve drawn five breaths. Gin Mitchell was raised in 1960s Oklahoma under the iron hand and leather belt of her grandfather, who took her in as an orphaned seven-year-old. Naïvete and desperation are a potent mix and she becomes pregnant by the high school football star, Mason McPhee. Surprisingly, Mason does right by her, giving up his college dreams to support his young wife. Even when Gin loses the baby and falls into a deep depression, he stays by her side and shows her great tenderness. Gin would follow Mason anywhere, including the oil fields of the Middle East, where Mason takes a job as foreman with the Arabian American Oil Company—Aramco. It is 1967. Gin and Mason enter the closed compound of oil workers set squarely in the middle of mysterious, dangerous Saudi Arabia. In the Kingdom of Men is a portrait of an unusual existence in a place teetering on the brink of monumental social change. Mason and Gin leave behind a dirt-poor life in depressed, repressed Oklahoma and walk into a world of servants and air-conditioning, cocktail parties, bored, pampered housewives, and cultural nuances as deep and nuanced as the shifting sands around them. It is an immense pleasure to read Kim Barnes’s prose. She is expressive and elegant without verbosity. Her descriptions paint finely detailed pictures of her characters and settings. You feel the enormous scope of the Arabian desert—its hot winds on your neck and sandy grit in your pores, taste the elaborate Indian meals prepared by the McPhee’s “houseboy” Yash. The characters are unique and multi-dimensional, bringing the detritus of their pasts to Arabia, forming yet another society of rules and intrigues. Set in the late 1960s, there is a Mad Men-esque to the social dramas and characters. Booze flows, cigarettes sear, and drunken soirées break the tedium for the housewives who are confined to the compound and have little to occupy their time but lounge at the club pool and gossip. There is an undercurrent of sexual tension in nearly every relationship. The sting of racial division is ever-present, as well—not just between the Saudis and the Americans, but with the migrant labor from South Asia who are subservient to everyone. And of course, female identity, oppression, and assertion dominates the book’s themes—from Gin’s childhood under the thumb of her fanatically religious grandfather to her coming of age as a sexual and intellectual being in the mixed up world of ex-pats and mutaween (Saudi virtue police). Gin pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable for an Aramco wife and treads blindly through the cultural mores of Saudi society. She befriends her Indian houseboy, appears in shirtsleeves in a market outside the compound, flirts with her Saudi driver, and runs out with an Italian photographer to capture images of a student protest. She is bored and lonely and unable to play the roles expected of her. Unfortunately for this reader, Gin’s constant stumbling and bumbling dragged down the quality of the narrative. The death of the woman alluded to on the opening page is a mystery that does not appear again until the final chapters. It’s dispensed with cursorily—with little resolution, as are the other plot twists. Political intrigue lost ground to the suburban dramas of philandering spouses and Gin’s numerous flirtations. Still, it is a book I would recommend, for its writing is fine, its subject matter unique, its world carefully researched. I would welcome more by Kim Barnes.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    I was so excited to read this one after I had downloaded the sample. And in the beginning, this story of a poor Oklahoma girl who marries and moves to Saudi Arabia with her oil worker husband, really sang. Virginia Mae McPhee (Gin) is the daughter of strong women. Her grandmother walks out on her preacher grandfather to make a better life for herself and her own daughter, Gin's mother. Gin lives with these two female influences until both her mother and grandmother die. At that point, she is for I was so excited to read this one after I had downloaded the sample. And in the beginning, this story of a poor Oklahoma girl who marries and moves to Saudi Arabia with her oil worker husband, really sang. Virginia Mae McPhee (Gin) is the daughter of strong women. Her grandmother walks out on her preacher grandfather to make a better life for herself and her own daughter, Gin's mother. Gin lives with these two female influences until both her mother and grandmother die. At that point, she is forced to live with her only relative, her hardscrabble grandfather. Intensely religious, he whips Gin for cutting the sleeves off a dress during the heat of summer. Her grandfather tries to raise her to be what he believes God wants: modest, pure and faithful. But Gin has other ideas, and really begins her life when she falls for a high school football star and sleeps with him, getting pregnant. The football player, Mason, does right by her and marries her. They move from Oklahoma to Houston, Texas, where Mason works in the oil fields. They lose the baby, and Gin is told she cannot have another child. She and Mason are despondent, until another chance comes along for them. Mason is soon picked to become part of Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company, and is asked to move to Saudi Arabia. I was especially interested in this since at my Texas school a number of our boarding students had parents who were also Aramco workers. Unfortunately, this was where the book fell apart for me. Gin and Mason move to Arabia, where they inherit the house of a well-liked couple who suddenly disappeared from the Aramco compound. Gin forms friendships with all kinds of "inappropriate" people - Ruthie, the Jewish wife of one of Mason's co-workers; her houseboy, Yash; a Bedouin driver, Abdullah; his family; and a wonderful piratical photographer, Carlo. Along the way, Gin learns to be a photographer herself, and she and Mason become embroiled in an enormous scandal. Sounds pretty good, right? But no. Does Gin really love Mason, or was he just her ticket out of her life with her grandfather? Was her grandfather as hard a man as we were led to believe in the beginning of the book? What does she feel for Yash? For Abdullah? What attracts her to the desert and the people of Arabia? We know nothing about her thought process, really, as she behaves in a completely inconsistent manner and seems to bounce from one crazy circumstance to the next, with no resolution involved. The author is a wonderful writer, and I will look forward to reading more from her. But I was disappointed in the contrast between the promise of the beginning of the book, and the way it simply seemed to go awry as Gin's actions and emotions became increasingly inconsistent.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    Born dirt poor in Oklahoma and raised by a Bible strict grandfather, Gin Mitchell trades her dilapidated cage for a gilded one when her young husband takes a job with Arabian American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. It’s 1967 and Mason is an admirer of Martin Luther King, Jr. and fearless believer in doing what’s right, which earns him respect but also enemies in a company whose policies dictate that native brown skinned workers are necessarily inferior. Stuck inside the luxurious home and walled c Born dirt poor in Oklahoma and raised by a Bible strict grandfather, Gin Mitchell trades her dilapidated cage for a gilded one when her young husband takes a job with Arabian American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. It’s 1967 and Mason is an admirer of Martin Luther King, Jr. and fearless believer in doing what’s right, which earns him respect but also enemies in a company whose policies dictate that native brown skinned workers are necessarily inferior. Stuck inside the luxurious home and walled compound the company provides, Gin has servants to garden, cook and clean, but nothing much to do. The rules about what to wear and how to behave are as restrictive as her grandfather’s. Company wives aren’t allowed to drive because Saudi men might see them, and they aren’t allowed to leave the compound or explore the desert on their own so they spend their days in aimless, sometimes licentious, leisure. Constrictions don’t sit well with Gin, who has inherited the fierce, free-spirited tendencies of her female relatives. She feels an affinity for her male servants, a Bedouin driver and an Indian “houseboy”, who also live under repressive rules, but her fascination with their lives and struggles toward selfhood create tension in her marriage, ultimately leading to danger. It’s an absorbing and immersive story with a fascinating setting, complex characters and a haunting thriller ending that doesn’t wrap everything up too neatly.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Holly S.

    I got pulled into this story right away. On the surface, it's a kind of Mad Men Meets Aramco--1967 Americans drinking cocktails in an expat compound in Saudi Arabia. The book is well-researched, and author captures well the expat lifestyle of isolation, over-indulgence & busybody expat women. I had been hesitant to read this book because the author had never been to Saudi Arabia. I did find the Arab character Abdullah and the Indian cook Yash to be both be "off" in behavior and especially in I got pulled into this story right away. On the surface, it's a kind of Mad Men Meets Aramco--1967 Americans drinking cocktails in an expat compound in Saudi Arabia. The book is well-researched, and author captures well the expat lifestyle of isolation, over-indulgence & busybody expat women. I had been hesitant to read this book because the author had never been to Saudi Arabia. I did find the Arab character Abdullah and the Indian cook Yash to be both be "off" in behavior and especially in language. This was distracting. Also, the subplot involving Abdullah's oppressed sister was a bit worn-out. Those problems aside, the book is essentially about Gin, the narrator. The most vivid parts are Gin's early tragic life when she's living in Oklahoma in a shack with an outhouse and a dirt floor. Her hillbilly background contrasts nicely with her new life in Saudi: big villa, domestic help, and a new set of flashy friends. That contrast is the story I couldn't resist.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I saw this book described as "Mad Men meets The Sheltering Sky." I've never actually read The Sheltering Sky, or watched Mad Men, but I'm pretty sure I get the gist. If this means it's American optimism and hubris in the Middle East meets midcentury modern style, killer clothes and sexism, then yes, that is just what this is. The writing is very nice, and there is a great thread of tension throughout that keeps the pages moving quickly, but everything takes a back seat to the mesmerizing setting I saw this book described as "Mad Men meets The Sheltering Sky." I've never actually read The Sheltering Sky, or watched Mad Men, but I'm pretty sure I get the gist. If this means it's American optimism and hubris in the Middle East meets midcentury modern style, killer clothes and sexism, then yes, that is just what this is. The writing is very nice, and there is a great thread of tension throughout that keeps the pages moving quickly, but everything takes a back seat to the mesmerizing setting. I actually did have some problems with this one--the climax was a disappointment and some of the characterizations felt weak to me. And I think the reader is supposed to sympathize with poor Gin, a free spirit living in a sexist society and governed by countless strictures, but when someone acts again and again like a foolhardy, selfish twit, it is hard to feel much sympathy for her complaints, even though they are totally valid. At the same time, this is one of the most purely transporting novels I've ever read, as in it really does transport you to another place and time--and what a time and place! I have read many, many books, but it is safe to say I have never read anything set in an American oil company's residential compound in the middle of the Arabian desert in the early 1960s. Definitely recommended if you like lush depictions of distinctive or exotic settings.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hanako

    Hmmm...not entirely sure what to say about this one. Parts of it were really interesting, about living in an oil camp in Saudi Arabia, but much of the story felt unbelievable and contrived. I didn't understand the main characters actions at times, and it was hard to know what she actually felt for the men in her life (husband, house boy, driver, and grandfather). And then the lack of conclusion...the opening lines set it up to be almost a mystery...but it doesn't deliver. Ultimately, it's an oka Hmmm...not entirely sure what to say about this one. Parts of it were really interesting, about living in an oil camp in Saudi Arabia, but much of the story felt unbelievable and contrived. I didn't understand the main characters actions at times, and it was hard to know what she actually felt for the men in her life (husband, house boy, driver, and grandfather). And then the lack of conclusion...the opening lines set it up to be almost a mystery...but it doesn't deliver. Ultimately, it's an okay read, but not one i would really recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    S.C.

    Virginia “Gin” Mitchell is a dreamer but life on a rural Oklahoma farm in 1968 is no fairy tale world, especially with a fundamentalist grandfather who finds infraction of religious law at every turn. When she ends up pregnant by local boy Mason McPhee, Gin is shunned and finds herself no better off in her new life with her new husband in Houston, TX. Impoverished and desperate to improve their situation, Mason takes a job overseas with an oil company, one located in the arid and isolated desert Virginia “Gin” Mitchell is a dreamer but life on a rural Oklahoma farm in 1968 is no fairy tale world, especially with a fundamentalist grandfather who finds infraction of religious law at every turn. When she ends up pregnant by local boy Mason McPhee, Gin is shunned and finds herself no better off in her new life with her new husband in Houston, TX. Impoverished and desperate to improve their situation, Mason takes a job overseas with an oil company, one located in the arid and isolated deserts of Saudi Arabia. It is here among haboobs and locust plagues that Gin comes of age and learns that the freedom and adventure she craves will continue to elude her and, once obtained, come at great price. Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Kim Barnes describes “In The Kingdom of Men” as “part cautionary tale, part adventure story”. The novel feels like a veiled treatise on feminism and religion. The author has many feelings about the latter – she ran away from home and a devout Pentecostal fundamentalist father twice in her youth. What she hasn’t lived is the oil compound life, and her information is culled from her aunt and uncle, employed and housed by Aramco in the 1960’s. I found her interview on The Diane Rehm Show and her musings on her book and her own life more interesting than the book itself. Her story arc is limp. The vast majority of the book is spent developing Gin and her relationships with the other characters. Gin’s naiveté and repression at the hands of her grandfather make her easy to root for in the beginning but her sudden change in demeanor and scant education on life beyond the Abqaiq compound damages her character growth. She goes from one insular lifestyle to another and though she breaks free from time to time, it’s not enough to mature her. Mason is a hard character to understand or sympathize with because, like Gin, the reader is as in the dark as her about what goes on in his head and at his job. His sudden leap into company politics is far-fetched. The relationship between Gin and Abdullah the Bedouin is a curious one; Barnes teases the reader with romantic undertones only to leave them lie at book’s end. Her friendship with Yash the Punjabi houseboy is an odd one too – it’s so mentor/student that it’s cliché. And while we’re on the subject of clichés, her inexplicably instantaneous rapport with Ruthie Doucet reeks of them - naïve and socially inept fundamentalist Christian country bumpkin befriends brash, outspoken, hard drinking, chain smoking modern and pampered Jewish woman. By the time Barnes gets down to brass tacks, the novel is nearly at its end. **SPOILER ALERT** It is implied in the book’s opening passage that Mason is blamed for a woman’s death but the reader never learns what becomes of him or Ruthie’s husband Lucky. Gin ends up a peripatetic and woeful woman, wandering a country in which she never intended to be. There is zero closure, nothing and no one to solve the mystery hinted at in the beginning. It is the book’s biggest failure. **END SPOILERS** I was really hoping I would find a gem in “The Kingdom of Men”. I delight in finding those diamonds in the rough that don’t get the publicity of other books and of being the one who spreads the word about them. Unfortunately, the only thing worth mentioning regarding this novel is Barnes’s adeptness at description and setting and it is not enough to save a sagging story. Not recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marcia

    I find it hard to rate this book. I recently heard the author read the first paragraph on the Diane Rehm Show and I don't feel that the subsequent story met its goal with regard to the mystery of the dead sister of Abdullah. Perhaps this is due to the confusing plot that I found hard to follow, when Gin's husband went off in search of truth and justice, as well as the amount of time it took to introduce the sister of Abdullah. Or maybe the point was to show just how incredibly naive and foolish I find it hard to rate this book. I recently heard the author read the first paragraph on the Diane Rehm Show and I don't feel that the subsequent story met its goal with regard to the mystery of the dead sister of Abdullah. Perhaps this is due to the confusing plot that I found hard to follow, when Gin's husband went off in search of truth and justice, as well as the amount of time it took to introduce the sister of Abdullah. Or maybe the point was to show just how incredibly naive and foolish Gin was throughout most of the story. I also has issues with Gin's foolish behavior, it seemed more than naive and somewhat contrived. The author admittedly never visited Saudi Arabia, nor had any connection to Aramco or the oil business, but apparently based her whole book on what she heard from her relatives, not really impressive research or corroboration of life in the compound as it really was. I firmly believe in write what you know or do a lot of homework...some of the situations did not seem realistic to someone likes me who has been in that industry. I powered through the story to the end, but was disappointed for all the reasons above. I will read another of the author's books because she has received so much critical acclaim for her earlier work and I am hoping this reading experience was a fluke.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christy Keating

    I really enjoyed this book and thought the language/writing was absolutely breathtaking at times. There were a few times when the story lost me or made some leaps that I maybe wasn't ready as the reader to make, but that didn't detract from the fact that it was a book that I was eager to read and finish. I found the cultural aspects of it fascinating, and the commentary on big business apropos, where profits come before people. Unlike some other reviewers I thought the character of Gin was well- I really enjoyed this book and thought the language/writing was absolutely breathtaking at times. There were a few times when the story lost me or made some leaps that I maybe wasn't ready as the reader to make, but that didn't detract from the fact that it was a book that I was eager to read and finish. I found the cultural aspects of it fascinating, and the commentary on big business apropos, where profits come before people. Unlike some other reviewers I thought the character of Gin was well-developed and that her naivite made sense, but thought that Mason could have been better developed given the ultimately pivotal role he played in the story. Given that the two of them were from a small town in the south in the 1960s, I found their admiration and emulation of MLK a bit unrealistic, however...the south in that time (especially the small towns) wasn't known for being particularly forward thinking I don't believe. Maybe I'm just cynical, however. That said, it was an enjoyable read that took me to a time and place I had no knowledge of, and that, in and of itself, was interesting to me. I would rate this a very worthwhile read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lori Fast

    I picked this book up at random at the library and was very pleasantly surprised. The writing is incredible and I've added the author to my list of people to keep an eye out for... the story was good as far as the characters go. I felt keenly Gin's rebellious nature and how her upbringing in a fundamentalist Pentacostal home impacted how she viewed her life as a wife at loose ends in a compound in Saudi Arabia. I also felt the genuine connection between her and her husband, regardless of the nat I picked this book up at random at the library and was very pleasantly surprised. The writing is incredible and I've added the author to my list of people to keep an eye out for... the story was good as far as the characters go. I felt keenly Gin's rebellious nature and how her upbringing in a fundamentalist Pentacostal home impacted how she viewed her life as a wife at loose ends in a compound in Saudi Arabia. I also felt the genuine connection between her and her husband, regardless of the nature of their beginnings together, and between Gin and the various friends she made while in Arabia. The plot about the company evils and how Mason, her husband, discovered them and tried to put them right, was less strong to me. I felt as though that was never fleshed out as fully as just the descriptions of the life they had chosen and yet were never at home with. I would recommend this book, though, to anyone wanting to experience the life of an expat in the early '60s, or to anyone wanting to understand more of the complexities of the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I am not sorry I read this. I felt I learned a little about the Arab - American relationship concerning oil in spite of our friendship with Israel. I did not dislike Gin and the character development specifically within her marital relationship (love / loss). At one point there was mention of the garden of Eden. Women's curiosity got us booted from the garden, but was it because we sinned or because we would have eventually eaten from the tree of life as well. Within the context of the story, I I am not sorry I read this. I felt I learned a little about the Arab - American relationship concerning oil in spite of our friendship with Israel. I did not dislike Gin and the character development specifically within her marital relationship (love / loss). At one point there was mention of the garden of Eden. Women's curiosity got us booted from the garden, but was it because we sinned or because we would have eventually eaten from the tree of life as well. Within the context of the story, I was impressed. I got that Gin was powerless to change things... It was hard enough in the states in 1967 let alone in the Saudi desert. Maybe it was just hard for me to draw a line between desire and friendship for Yash the Indian and Abdullah the Beduoin. I felt she was attracted to both but didn't really get why she was so unfulfilled with hubby - long absences or not. Between that, and no real closure, I guess it left me wanting. And sad.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sally Brock

    A brilliant piece of story telling, Ms. Barnes - bravo. A chilling story of naive Americans abroad, of women asked to be silent and unseeing one time too many, and of the towering power of kings and their money. The tale was a compelling one for me having lived abroad as a young woman and been witness to my own foolhardiness in the face of assuming certain cultural behaviors, to the dilemmas of living with domestic help for the first time and to experiencing the combination of freedom and isolat A brilliant piece of story telling, Ms. Barnes - bravo. A chilling story of naive Americans abroad, of women asked to be silent and unseeing one time too many, and of the towering power of kings and their money. The tale was a compelling one for me having lived abroad as a young woman and been witness to my own foolhardiness in the face of assuming certain cultural behaviors, to the dilemmas of living with domestic help for the first time and to experiencing the combination of freedom and isolation at the same time. The writing was deliciously fluid, the reading was pure pleasure. One of my best reads in a while.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Robyn B

    This is a truly enjoyable book that takes you away in time and place. Arabia in the 1960s at the height of the US/Arab collaboration to extract oil from the desert and the lives of those people living in that very foreign land. How easy to get caught up in the lifelike story of Gin, a young bride struggling to find her way in the world. I loved this book until the end. I can't say I liked the ending much. Seemed as though the writer lost her way just as the character did. Still a great read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Emma Bennett

    One star for the first chapter - enthralling, intriguing, beautifully set 'back in time' with characters I loved and loved to hate. Another star for the cover illustrations - one of the prettiest books I've seen! But unfortunately that's all that saved this book for me; extremely irritating main character who I just wanted to scream at, in a bad way, with an unsatisfactory ending.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I enjoyed this book a lot. First of all, the main character Virginia Mae, was intriguing. This book really was about the "education of Gin." Secondly, I had never read a book where Saudi Arabia and the oil fields in the early 1970's was the setting - attention-keeping. Lastly, I enjoyed how Barnes wrapped the story up - denouement.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tova

    10/10, I think Kim Barnes is the holy ghost. I mean, all lectures should start with a story about some random dutch-german-indian family rescuing an owl from a porta-potty.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Gin McPhee grew up in poverty, with a strict grandfather who preached and taught her the consequences of sin. Almost to her disbelief, Gin finds herself escaping her life and married to Mason, a former prom king who gives up a scholarship to Oklahoma State when she finds herself pregnant and gets a job in oil. Houston is replaced by Saudi Arabia and Gin finds mending and making do replaced by living in the luxury compound run by the Arabian American Oil Company. It is 1967, but things have change Gin McPhee grew up in poverty, with a strict grandfather who preached and taught her the consequences of sin. Almost to her disbelief, Gin finds herself escaping her life and married to Mason, a former prom king who gives up a scholarship to Oklahoma State when she finds herself pregnant and gets a job in oil. Houston is replaced by Saudi Arabia and Gin finds mending and making do replaced by living in the luxury compound run by the Arabian American Oil Company. It is 1967, but things have changed very little in the desert. Although Gin has a lovely house, a gardener and a houseboy (the witty and intelligent Yash) she is unable to leave the compound on her own, as she suffers the strict rules imposed on a country where women are largely housebound and reliant on men. It seems to her she has escaped the limits of her childhood only to end in a gilded prison. With Mason away for weeks at a time, Gin relies on the company of Yash, her new found friend Ruthie and her new hobby of photography. Mason is determined to make his new job a success, but is uncomfortable about the way the Arab workers are treated and wants to improve their lives. This is not a traditional mystery, but is more about the way Gin responds to the confines of her new life, as she attempts to understand her new home and the people there. There is Abdullah, Mason's driver, who is certainly capable of a much better role and feels resentment. Yash, who used to work for the Bodeen's, the couple who lived in the company house before Gin and Mason and is more aware of why they left so suddenly than anyone realises. Ruthie, wicked and lovable, Carlo the Italian photographer and Abdullah's beautiful sister, Nadia. Mason's idealistic views and Gin's inability to accept the limits of her new life, bring them both into danger and, everywhere, the company wives are watching... This is an excellent, interesting novel with great characters and would be wonderful for a reading group, with lots to discuss. If you enjoy this, you might also like "The Night of the Mi'raj", another excellent novel set in Saudi Arabia.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Larraine

    The cover for this book shows a woman's hands neatly folded, the neails perfect, the clothing tasteful, but there is no face. The book introduces us to Virginia "Gin" McPhee who only wants to "know." It takes places in 1970, just when women's liberation was getting started. It was a time when an employer could ask when you were planning to get pregnant. After losing both her grandmother (who left her husband as a young woman and raised Gin's mother alone) and her mother, Gin is sent to live with The cover for this book shows a woman's hands neatly folded, the neails perfect, the clothing tasteful, but there is no face. The book introduces us to Virginia "Gin" McPhee who only wants to "know." It takes places in 1970, just when women's liberation was getting started. It was a time when an employer could ask when you were planning to get pregnant. After losing both her grandmother (who left her husband as a young woman and raised Gin's mother alone) and her mother, Gin is sent to live with that same grandfather, a strict Methodist preacher who beats her and constantly calls her a sinner while loving her in his own way. She rebels and falls for Mason, the high school jock. They conceive a child, and he immediately makes the decision to marry her which means losing his basketball scholarship. He takes a job with an oil company in Texas where their child is born prematurely and dies. Gin is also told she can no longer conceive. They are still very young, but Mason is offered a job with ARAMCO, an oil company in Saudi Arabia. The money is great and includes free housing in a company compound. There's only one catch: there's absolutely no freedom for women and very few places where she can go and satisfy the increasing curiosity about her world. When they arrive in "Arabia" as they call it, they have a completely furnished home with a houseboy and gardener. Gin is bored quickly. She's not interested in drinking and gossip. In addition, Mason soon learns that shortcuts are being taken which causes needless accidents. I sympathize and understand Gin having grown up at this time. Women were expected to take a back seat when it came to ambition. In fact, if you were curious and driven, you were looked upon with suspicion. To some extent, that's still true for women although it's a lot better than it was. The language in this book is full of incredibly imagery, some of it romantic, some of it seamy. The end is jolting and incredibly sad, but, once again, the language is so wonderful, I can forgive anything.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Gin and Mason McPhee leave their dirt poor pasts behind for an opportunity to live in a "protected community" in Saudi Arabi in the 1960's, under the arm of the real-life company that existed at that time known as "Aramco". The company gives them a palatial home with a dedicated and trusted houseboy. The community has everything they need: Recreation center with a pool, schools, hospital, and police force. Mason works on a platform rig on the sea, and is gone for two weeks, then home for two. Gi Gin and Mason McPhee leave their dirt poor pasts behind for an opportunity to live in a "protected community" in Saudi Arabi in the 1960's, under the arm of the real-life company that existed at that time known as "Aramco". The company gives them a palatial home with a dedicated and trusted houseboy. The community has everything they need: Recreation center with a pool, schools, hospital, and police force. Mason works on a platform rig on the sea, and is gone for two weeks, then home for two. Gin finds the two-week periods alone almost suffocating, with little to do. Even the library in the compound provides little in the way of stimulating reading. Gin becomes a reporter and photographer for the community newspaper. Bored with covering dances and athletic events, she finds a way to leave the community and explore the great Sahara. Then, within her own home she discovers secrets that led to the previous house occupants to be sent back home. She shares these secrets with her husband, Mason, who warns her and forbids her to tell anyone else. Gin makes a slip and tells someone else the secret, at the same time Mason is given a promotion. Unexpected events ensue, and Mason disappears. Gin desperately tries to find him, putting her own life in danger. I enjoyed this book, and found that it is based on a true "company compound" created by a real company, Aramco. However, I felt that there lacked a strong emotional connection between Gin and Mason, who were obviously devoted to each other.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Focusing mainly on the concept of freedom for women in the 1960's, and set in both dirt poor Oklahoma and in oil rich Saudi Arabia, the conclusion drawn is that essentially freedom was an illusion. Throughout the book the reader is encouraged to see the similarities between the roles of women and slaves/servants in the new state created out of the sand by American oil companies. This story seems to form a solid basis for contemporary readings of the relationships between America and the oil prod Focusing mainly on the concept of freedom for women in the 1960's, and set in both dirt poor Oklahoma and in oil rich Saudi Arabia, the conclusion drawn is that essentially freedom was an illusion. Throughout the book the reader is encouraged to see the similarities between the roles of women and slaves/servants in the new state created out of the sand by American oil companies. This story seems to form a solid basis for contemporary readings of the relationships between America and the oil producing states given by films such as Syriana and The Kingdom. I think in this sense the novel has been highly influenced by these modern perceptions of this relationship. In saying that I am not trying to detract from the power of this novel or to deny the basic truth behind these perceptions. I am 100% sure that the relationship was one of manipulation, greed, monopolies and corruption, and that to a large extent it still is. The value of human life, when contrasted with a 'good' oil deal, is shown throughout the novel, with people being removed/demoted or killed intentionally and through negligence. It is this which forms the central core of the novel. The contrast between the romanticised vision of Arabia and the grimy reality is central to story. The relationships Gin builds with her husband and with the men and women she meets in Arabia feel genuine, although the final section set in Italy is maybe a bit of a disappointment. Overall highly readable.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    This novel by Kim Barnes takes place in 1967 in Oklahoma where Ginny McPhee is being raised in a two room shack by her grandfather after her mother died. The grandfather is a strict Methodist minister who keeps Gin under extreme control which leads her to escape one night, have sex with the local basketball star and find herself pregnant. When her husband finds a job with an Arabian American Oil Company, they move to Saudi Arabia where they move into a house that includes marble floors and a hou This novel by Kim Barnes takes place in 1967 in Oklahoma where Ginny McPhee is being raised in a two room shack by her grandfather after her mother died. The grandfather is a strict Methodist minister who keeps Gin under extreme control which leads her to escape one night, have sex with the local basketball star and find herself pregnant. When her husband finds a job with an Arabian American Oil Company, they move to Saudi Arabia where they move into a house that includes marble floors and a house boy to cook and clean courtesy of the oil company. In the Kingdom of Men teems with sandstorms, locust storms, shrimp peddlers, pearl divers and Bedouin caravans. Gin, who has never known freedom and wealth, makes a best friend, buys a bikini, has her easrs pierced, and makes the houseboy(man) a friend. She befriends a Bedouin who lives in a lavish tent and raises Arabian horses. The only drwback is that Mason has to be gone for long periods working on an off-shore oil rig. Gin finds herself facing temptations and losing feeling for her husband who i s away a majority of the time. When a war between Egypt and Israel breaks out, many of the wives leave for Italy, including Ruthie, her best friend. Mason is promoted and sides with the poor Arabians who works for far less than the Americans. All this strife leads to an unsuspected ending.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Lawrence of Arabia, Arabian nights, I remember reading so much history centering on Arabia that when I saw this book I knew it was one I had to read.In the 1960's Gin McPhee finds herself, with her husband in Saudi Arabia when her husband finds work with the Saudi American oil company Aramco. Ginny who was raised, after the unfortunate demise of her mother and grandmother, in Oklahoma by her often punishing grandfather, who was a Pentecostal minister. They live in an American compound, strictly Lawrence of Arabia, Arabian nights, I remember reading so much history centering on Arabia that when I saw this book I knew it was one I had to read.In the 1960's Gin McPhee finds herself, with her husband in Saudi Arabia when her husband finds work with the Saudi American oil company Aramco. Ginny who was raised, after the unfortunate demise of her mother and grandmother, in Oklahoma by her often punishing grandfather, who was a Pentecostal minister. They live in an American compound, strictly guarded, due to the restrictive nature of this society towards its women. In elegant prose, and beautifully rendered scenery we follow Gin as she attempts to find fulfillment in this place, that she finds so stifling but at the same time fascinating. Tempting fate she takes chances and stumbles on to a secret that has adverse effects for all involved. This is a wonderful novel, not only about the curiosity of a woman who wants to grow and find out what she can become but also for the political strife between the Arabs and Israel and the impact of the oil company in this country. Loved every minute of this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Carter

    LOVED this book - best book I've read in a long time. It's the story of a young woman figuring out who she is and what she wants. At times she seemed selfish and impatient to me and I had to keep reminding myself that she is 18-19 years old and was brought up in extreme poverty and religious austerity. So when she and her husband arrive overseas and he works 2 week tours at a time, she is left to figure out what to do with herself. She can't do housework because that would put out her houseboy ( LOVED this book - best book I've read in a long time. It's the story of a young woman figuring out who she is and what she wants. At times she seemed selfish and impatient to me and I had to keep reminding myself that she is 18-19 years old and was brought up in extreme poverty and religious austerity. So when she and her husband arrive overseas and he works 2 week tours at a time, she is left to figure out what to do with herself. She can't do housework because that would put out her houseboy (who might otherwise starve), she can't garden because that would put out her gardener (who might otherwise starve), she can't leave the base without her husband's permission - it's like she's beating her head against the wall with everything she tries to do. She becomes more reckless in behavior and frustrated with constantly being subjugated by men - first her grandpa, then her husband, then all the men/rules in Saudi Arabia. The story is very well written and there is momentum throughout the story - you know that this will all come to a head at some point. Well worth reading.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This one is the real deal. Kim Barnes writes a drop dead gorgeous novel set in 1967 Arabia. Narrator Virginia "Gin" McPhee is a dirt poor orphan from rural Oklahoma who winds up in one of the Americanized oil compounds in the Saudi desert with her high school sweetheart, Mason. "The education of Mrs. Gin" that takes place once she arrives in this exotic and paradoxical place is languorous, poignant, cringe-inducing, and violent by turns. Barnes successfully fuses a captivating fiction narrative This one is the real deal. Kim Barnes writes a drop dead gorgeous novel set in 1967 Arabia. Narrator Virginia "Gin" McPhee is a dirt poor orphan from rural Oklahoma who winds up in one of the Americanized oil compounds in the Saudi desert with her high school sweetheart, Mason. "The education of Mrs. Gin" that takes place once she arrives in this exotic and paradoxical place is languorous, poignant, cringe-inducing, and violent by turns. Barnes successfully fuses a captivating fiction narrative with historical particulars (her note at the end makes for a great bibliographic essay on Saudi-American history of the Cold War) and creates a complex voice for her protagonist that successfully evokes the heavy, arid atmosphere that surrounds her in that time and place. Although the focus of the narrative lies in the problematic and corrupt world of Aramco's corporate kingdom, she also successfully suffuses the work with themes of religion, feminism, and race without the heavy hand that such an imposing troika might otherwise assume. A really stellar achievement.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Spencer Inskeep

    Haunting, exotic, perplexing, compelling...I was strangely drawn to this book, thinking of it when I wasn't reading. Imagine 1960's Saudi Arabia, a young woman from Oklahoma raised by her conservative and religious grandfather, married young to her sweetheart who quits college and gets a job on an oil rig. Life in Arabia is like living in a silk prison, but in some ways Gin McPhee has more freedoms than she did in OK. She begins to discover who she is, taking risks, cutting her hair, pushing the Haunting, exotic, perplexing, compelling...I was strangely drawn to this book, thinking of it when I wasn't reading. Imagine 1960's Saudi Arabia, a young woman from Oklahoma raised by her conservative and religious grandfather, married young to her sweetheart who quits college and gets a job on an oil rig. Life in Arabia is like living in a silk prison, but in some ways Gin McPhee has more freedoms than she did in OK. She begins to discover who she is, taking risks, cutting her hair, pushing the boundaries... I'm honestly conflicted as to whether I like her or not. Her husband Mason is compassionate and kind with a strong sense of justice for the poor Arabs who work the oil fields, but bewildered by her transformation into an independent and head strong wife. I loved the characters of Abdullah, the Bedouin engineer who has been relegated the role of driver for Mason and Yash, the Indian house 'boy' who serves the McPhee's offer protection and wisdom to Gin.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Arlene

    This book is a huge disappointment. Potential readers should not be taken in by the statements found on the inside cover of the book jacket that identify the first and second things we supposedly need to know about the main character. As other reviewers have said, this story reads more like an episode of Madmen than an insightful attempt to describe either Middle Eastern culture or the complex relationships between eastern and western culture. Both the author reviews and book jacket intro paint This book is a huge disappointment. Potential readers should not be taken in by the statements found on the inside cover of the book jacket that identify the first and second things we supposedly need to know about the main character. As other reviewers have said, this story reads more like an episode of Madmen than an insightful attempt to describe either Middle Eastern culture or the complex relationships between eastern and western culture. Both the author reviews and book jacket intro paint a vastly different picture of what readers will find within the pages of this book. Descriptive words and phrases like mesmerizing, windswept adventure, suspense, intriguing story, thrilling climax should not be applied to this novel. I would not put this on any list of books to read unless you can't find anything worthwhile.

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