SAUDI by Laurie Devine


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Bi-cultural miseries ensue when a spirited American girl falls in love with a religious, firmly nationalistic Saudi--just as Egyptian/Jewish lovers had culture-clash troubles through the decades in Devine's similarly ambitious, similarly uneven Nile (1983). Sunny Shannon, raised by grandparents in Massachusetts, often dreams of going to Saudi Arabia--where her absent widower-father Tom, a geological engineer, has spent most of his time, helping to raise the two fatherless sons of his old friend Abdullah. (Tom, unbeknownst to Sunny, is drenched in guilt: he failed to save Abdullah's life, choosing instead to rescue the body of his drowned wife.) So exuberant Sunny is bound to be attracted to her father's foster-sons: first she meets England-educated, West-infatuated, US-visiting Muhammed--but the sexual episode that ensues is unsavory; then, studying psychology at B.U., Sunny meets handsome, exotic MIT student Rashid, and she soon manages to become his second wife. Traveling to Saudi, Sunny falls in love with the land and Rashid's generally welcoming family of women. On the other hand, she's disturbed by the harshness and cruelty that goes on outside the family compound, the ritual oppression of women--from the stifling veil/mask confinements to the horrors of female circumcision and salt-stiffened birth canals. And though Sunny respects Rashid's Arab traditionalism (he scorns the House of Saud's ""greed,"" works for Arab unity, fends off foreign-influenced ""decadence""), she becomes a victim of his religious principles: when Rashid learns about Sunny's bygone Muhammed tryst, he divorces her. So now Sunny returns to the US with daughter Sarah--while family tragedies occur in Saudi: Muhammed, an ostracized spy for Israel, commits suicide; Sunny's young son Khalid, cut off from both parents, becomes a doomed fanatic (executed after the Grand Mosque storming). And, at the close, the couple will try again--as a masked Sunny returns to Saudi's ""hot barren desolation."" Like Nile: a dense romantic drama, often intriguing but somewhat too thickly laden with message and familiar atmospheric exotica.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster