Book Review: ‘The Ruins of Us’ by Keija Parssinen

Book: The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen
Reviewed by: Jessica

Keija Parssinen’s first novel, The Ruins of Us, is a story about a family’s fall from harmony into discord set in Saudi Arabia. Born in Saudi Arabia and having lived there for twelve years as a third generation expatriate, Parssinen’s writing brings the intensity of the country’s political and cultural world to the reader’s doorstep, inviting readers to step into a world of lightness and darkness as she unveils one family’s unraveling and isolation.

Parssinen spins a beautiful story about Rosalie (an expatriate), her husband Abdullah, their children Mariam and Faisal, and their friend Dan. The story begins with Rosalie’s discovery of her beloved husband Abdullah’s secret marriage of two years to a Saudi Arabian-born woman. Her hurt and disappointment lead her into a downward spiral where nothing matters except her pain. Abdullah is unable to cope with his wife’s anger and resentment and detaches himself from his first love and children to be with Isra, his second wife. Even his long running friendship with his American friend Dan is cast into shadows.

Dan, who Abdullah and Rosalie met when they were in college in Texas, is an American who works for a Saudi Arabian company. His character offers an interesting look into Rosalie’s past.  Dan’s anger toward Abdullah is the beginning of the end of their long friendship and the beginning of his devotion to Rosalie.

Fallen to the wayside as the drama unfolds are Mariam and Faisal, Rosalie and Abdullah’s children.

Mariam and Faisal illustrate two sides of Saudi Arabia. Daughter Mariam struggles for equal rights for women. She is shown as a rebel at school by sewing her own clothing and she refuses to be held back by traditional Saudi rules of covering oneself. She is also a secret blogger depicting the difficult times women have in the country and delighting at her many followers. Mariam’s brother, and opposite, Faisal gets caught up in his friend Majid’s extremist group that wants to purge Saudi Arabia of all western influence.  The groups’ leader Ibrahim is an idol to Faisal and leads him to a dark underbelly of humanity where Faisal’s hatred for his parents’ failure pushes him over the edge.

The Ruins of Us takes the reader on a harrowing journey through each character’s isolation and despair as the family is torn asunder when Faisal learns of Rosalie and Dan’s private friendship.  His utter repulsion by Dan because he is an American and his own disgust with being part American lead him down a dark path of hatred and violence.

Parssinen’s debut novel delivers a tour de force collection of characters who learn their immortality and somehow manage to be able to love even through the destruction of each other’s lives and welfare.

Keija Parssinen will speak and sign Ruins of Us here at BookPeople on Saturday, January 21, 4pm.

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