Sands of Saudi

I recently read The Desert Contract by John Lathrop.


As a novel, it was ok.  I mean, it had all the things a novel needs to have: characters, plot, and setting.  The characters were so flat I could probably inflate them with a helium tank and they would still collapse like failed Macy’s floats onto the Sands of Saudi Arabia, which are featured prominently in the book.  Oh yeah, I should probably tell you that the novel is about an American businessman, Jack  Kemp, who is an expat selling investments in the Middle East. He’s come back from LA because the tech bubble and pretty much all of Western civilization as we know it, has popped.  So he’s back in Saudi, shilling his product. And, surprise!  By COMPLETE COINCIDENCE, he meets his lover from the first time he was in the Gulf (after the 1991 War), pretty, Irish Helen.  She’s just so Irish, you know!  She says silly words like banshee and greets Jack with “Dia duit,” because she’s always been proud of her Gaelic.  She is also anatomically perfect.  She is slender, with a column-like neck (as opposed to square,) square shoulders (as opposed to column-like,) and breasts that were full but not heavy.  Her complexion is milk-white Irish.  Three cheers for Lucky Charms!



I gotta give Lathrop a break, though.  This is his first novel.  Aside from the flat characters, constant cliches, and gross oversimplification, the book is pretty good. He does have very keen powers of observation about expat life in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in general.  In fact, Saudi Arabia is his most vibrant character in the book.   The sands, the chaos, and most of all, the glittering emptiness in the sunshine and winds of the Gulf are what infuse the novel with atmosphere.   Read it for the descriptions alone.

A quote from the novel to get you thinking:

Her husband sat up, his eyes refocused.  “Right above us,” he said, “your next port of call.  Yousef.  Joe, as he prefers to be called.  Our upstairs neighbor.  I expect he passes himself off to you as American.  In fact he’s Iraqi.  Born in Basra.  Grew up like a Saudi in Jedda, but I suspect he’s Shia.  On the wrong side of the tracks.  Made it to the States years ago, when you were still letting in anyone, and got some kind of bogus degree.  You should be careful of him.  He’s the worst kind of Arab: half Westernized.  The kind who don’t know who they are, and don’t know the rules.  Or don’t give a damn.  They think the rules don’t apply.  The kind of Arab who’s on the fence.  And, when push comes to shove, who knows which side they’ll jump down on?”

After reading about his descriptions of Al Khobar, Saudi, and the surrounding area, I couldn’t resist picture-surfing to find out more about Saudi Arabia, which I will never be allowed to visit, because I make Passover matzah from the blood of Christian babies.  Also, I’m a kvetcher.

We reached the outskirts of town.  Sunken oases slipped by on each side-irregular patches of farm, rows of grayish date palms- clinging to a stunted life over a pumped-out and contaminated water table.  Finally we turned back to the coast road.

Here are some pics of the locations described in the book.  Mabruk.


Swimming pool..or fountain.


Subtle half-crescent Islam play park


This is how they do Google in Al Khobar.

The dusty desolation of the highway

The dusty desolation of the highway . Are we sure this isn't Texas?