In this collection of letters, an American couple describe life with their young son in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s.
A month before the 1973 oil crisis, Doyle moved to a city on the Persian Gulf so that her husband, Jack, could teach English at the College of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. They stayed four years, returning to the United States in the summers. Throughout that time, Doyle regularly wrote home to friends and family explaining the peculiarities and pleasures of living in a country where women were (and still are) prohibited from driving and where princes sometimes commandeered planes from the national airline. Jack also wrote a few letters in the book, which includes explanatory footnotes throughout. Readers will learn little about Doyle’s or Jack’s backgrounds, but a vivid picture emerges of living in a compound with other expatriates, of surviving sandstorms and three-inch-long cockroaches, and of negotiating cultural barriers. At his university, Jack dealt with inefficient bureaucracy and students paid to attend school. Doyle eventually got a job of her own but ended up moving around partly because of the difficulties of being a woman in the Saudi workplace. As a writer, Doyle has a light, often graceful touch, as when she writes of a visit to a beach where fish “were flinging themselves out of the water like a handful of silver coins in the sun.” Her anecdotes are often funny, too. In one of her letters, for example, she tells how overseas phone calls were monitored and how one woman started speaking in German only to be interrupted by a censor, who informed her she could only speak in English or Arabic. Generally, Doyle is sympathetic to Saudis and people of other nationalities, though she objects to things like the Saudi treatment of women. Some readers might tire of descriptions of making wine or trying to get a refrigerator fixed, but others will likely enjoy hearing the various details of her life. Also included at the end of the book are recipes from Doyle’s years abroad.
An intriguing, at times humorous account of an American woman and her husband’s four years in a conservative Arab kingdom.