A faculty panel at Stephens College last night explored in depth gender and cultural themes in “The Ruins of Us” by Keja Parssinen.
The novel is Columbia’s One Read book selection this year. It follows the story of an American woman, Rosalie, whose Saudi Arabian husband of more than 20 years has taken a second wife. The family dynamics get even more complicated as the couple’s teenage son becomes more radical in Islam and daughter becomes more Westernized.
The book provided plenty of fodder for the Stephens panelists who offered a range of areas of expertise. Monica McMurry, dean of the School of Fashion and Design, shared how technology and mobility are influencing culture, both at the micro and macro levels. Muslim garb that Rosalie wears, for instance, is not simply “ethnic,” but rather becoming more common in Islamic communities across America. McMurry also explored the notion of expression through fashion—even through subtleties such as wearing an eggplant abaya rather than a traditional black headscarf.
Tina Parke-Sutherland, professor of English/creative writing, took a broader view of the book, warning readers to view it as a love story rather than a portrayal of life in Saudi Arabia. Although Parssinen herself lived in the Kingdom as a child, the book is from the perspective of a 21st Century American woman, Parke-Sutherland said.
In the novel, Rosalie’s daughter manages an anonymous blog that ultimately plays a critical role in the climax. Although it’s possible to get required permissions to use social media in Saudi Arabia, it’s not commonplace, said Laura Flacks Narrol, assistant professor in the School of Organizational Leadership and Strategic Communication. In other areas of unrest in the Middle East, however, Twitter and other instant online media are contributing to social changes, said Flacks Narrol, who has traveled through the Middle East.
“We really appreciated the opportunity to be part of this community discussion, to share the breadth of knowledge we have here at Stephens, and to engage our students and the community at large in so many inter-related issues of community, culture and gender,” Stephens President Dianne Lynch said.
Sponsored by Daniel Boone Regional Library, One Read is a community-wide reading program that encourages the public to read the same book and attend discussions and events about the book throughout the month of September.
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