As Saudi Arabia's oil revenues poured in by the hundreds of millions of dollars a day in the
late '70s and early '80s, dreamers and schemers from around the world hoping to strike it rich answered the kingdom's call for manpower, technology and materials to undertake a massive modernization program
of the country's infrastructure, education and healthcare systems. The dark side of the dream was a severe ancient culture quick to judge and quicker to punish "decadent" foreigners who dared flout its austere laws.
Rosalinda Santamaria, a Filipino-American healthcare professional who worked in Saudi Arabia for four years, mines her experience there for her novel Expatriate Games,
the story predominantly of two young American nurses - Jill, an innocent New
Jersey girl desperate to save her handicapped mother's house from the repo man,
and Shawnee, a worldly Chicago beauty looking for a way to get out of nursing
and into law school, even if it means two more years of a job she has come to
loathe. Recruited to fill out the staff at the Royal Hospital in Riyadh, they
know that they will need to compromise with a culture like nothing in the U.S.
What they don't know is how profoundly the cultural differences will change them
- and the lives of their patients, friends, and fellow expatriates.
Santamaria touches on the endemic overburdening and burnout of late
twentieth-century American nurses, but for the most part her focus is the
ultraconservative Saudi social climate facing the foreigners come to work there:
no alcohol, strict curfews, zero tolerance for non-Muslim religions, almost no
fraternization between single men and women, and a paternalistic, proprietary
attitude toward women that is almost inconceivable to Westerners. The
expatriates must exercise extravagant discretion if they want to skirt the
myriad prohibitions they agreed to by stepping onto Saudi soil, and the extremes
to which they will go to have forbidden creature comforts are almost bizarre.
All that takes a backseat, though, to an audacious plan hatched on the fly to
rescue a teenage Saudi girl sentenced to stoning and her illegitimate son - and
to exact justice on a man who holds the future of two of his servants hostage to
his carnal desire.