In a novel that is deeply human and emotionally turbulent, Hobbet creates a fascinating story of Kuwait between the two Gulf wars. In a constant state of anxiety lest Saddam let loose his erratic ambitions in their direction once more, a cast of diverse characters coalesce around personal dramas and the fate of a maid who is at the mercy of her battling employers.
Devout Muslim mother and wife Mufeeda is an upper-class Kuwaiti married to an OB/GYN at a local hospital: “The deepest religion in our culture is the family itself.” Deeply in love with her husband and governed by religious principles, Mufeeda must endure the irascibility of her mother-in-law, an acerbic and bitter woman who undermines every decision the daughter-in-law makes and encourages the increasing rebellion of Mufeeda’s eldest daughter, who favors her paternal grandmother far more than her mother.
Then there is Kit, the wife of an American businessman, who finds acculturation extremely difficult but becomes a pivotal figure when interceding on behalf of the imperiled maid. The differences in class are stark as evidenced in Mufeeda’s household, where Indian cook Emmanuella has become increasingly clumsy and is riddled with fear on behalf of the maid next door. It seems Emmanuella has been stashing food from Mufeeda’s household to sneak to the maid, who has received no provisions from her employers and may perish at their hands.
Mufeeda’s mother-in-law particularly dislikes Emmanuella, who is daily terrified of being sent home to India - as are the many immigrant workers who depend upon their incomes to support families back home. While Mufeeda runs her household impeccably and struggles to honor her religion and role as wife and mother, the servants scurry around, all at the mercy of those who hold power over their fate.
The hierarchy of class defines everything, making the maid’s plight even more desperate as Emmanuelle hides her efforts in fear of reprisal. Strict cultural rules are at play here, including for the beautiful and ambitious Hanaan, a Palestinian rebelling against her family and convention. Hanaan has the misfortune (or fortune) to fall in love with an American physician recently arrived to practice in the country at the same hospital where Rafeeda’s husband works.
Hobbet handles her characters with infinite grace, compassion and a sense of humor, constructing a moving novel that explores cultural differences at a time of political unrest. Each individual is unique and carefully fitted into a tale that will require great risk for a few women on behalf of one in terrible danger. Not only a story about an exotic locale and converging interests, this is a novel cut from the fabric of the human heart.