This is not only a travel book but a thought-provoking documentary on inter-cultural relationships between the different races and nationalities comprising the huge expatriate population and native Arab residents of the oil-rich peninsula.
The many characters portrayed, pres... ented in a variety of authentic stories encountered by the author on his travels, are centred around the horrific event of a public stoning in Saudi Arabia. Some of the stories have a humorous flavour, but all are concerned with the human problems - many of them poignant - of expatriates and Arabs alike, living cheek by jowl in a society of gaping contrasts.
It would be simplistic to interpret the book as merely a critique of the harsher aspects of Arab life from a Western perspective, for in the cause of future concord, the author calls for a dialogue between the cultures of the Middle East and the West in the name of social justice and modernisation. The present strains, in what has become a multi-cultural society following the influx of millions, mostly from the Third World, anticipates the possibility of trouble in the future.
The status of women is highlighted and discussed in several dramatic episodes, and a compassionate view is taken of Asian guest workers in the light of their widespread mistreatment in the Gulf.
The rigidity of tradition would seem not merely to prevent the development of a modern mind-set, but in the perceived threat of Westernisation, to trigger an even more regressive attitude, as is shown clearly in this book. But note is also taken of the Arab outlook on the Western world, together with their horror of Western liberal values, and their passionate arguments for resisting change are recorded in detail.
An element of suspense and mystery is maintained throughout the book as the execution of the condemned victim progresses through the narrative, only interrupted by recollections of other personalities and the stories surrounding them. Is the condemned person male or female? And what was the offence? No prior information is posted by the authorities on the public punishment or execution of offenders. The attitude of many readers to the horrific episode may change considerably as the true facts leading up to the execution are revealed towards the end of the book.
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