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Book Review: Small Kingdoms by Anastasia Hobbet

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In 1990 Kuwait was humbled in a matter of a few hours when Saddam Hussein invaded and seized control. Small Kingdoms takes place six years later; the people of this tiny country are on edge with fear of another attack. With a daily sense of foreboding and increased tension the people living there go about their daily lives while the bulldozers of Iraq threaten to roll into their land. These menacing machines conjure up memories of the past, heinous crimes buried but not forgotten.

Hobbet’s storytelling takes shape from different perspectives emanating from the lives of her culturally diverse mosaic of characters. As she introduces each one into the story, their unique voice and close-up view blend together. Their background and different cultures intersect, and through them the reader comes to understand the Middle East and the Kuwaiti society in the global arena. Not in isolation, but at the center stage.

The lives of four women, so alike yet so different, strong, obdurate and struggling to achieve their own goals are paramount to the story. Mufeeda, a married upper class Kuwaiti citizen, Kit, the wife of an American businessman and Hanaan, a recalcitrant single, Arab woman. In a society where servants are expendable, Emmanuella, a cook from India tests the limits of her position in order to save another. Her precarious deeds while working for Mufeeda offer a lesson in the fragility and value of human life.

Hanaan is full of intrigue and surprise, laughter and sorrow. She will go to great lengths to save a sick cat, and when she steals a cat from the owner, the scene is is rip-roaringly funny. In contrast, the chilling reality of her fate as an Arab women who engages in a relationship with a non-Arab is sobering. This dichotomy of emotions will cause you to seesaw between laughter and tears throughout. The lives of the people in Small Kingdoms feel genuine, they matter, and they touch your heart deeply.

Through the perspective Hobbet gained from living in Kuwait for five years, the writer unveils its prejudice, stereotypes, history, culture and beliefs. When you finish reading Small Kingdoms, Kuwait will no longer be an enigma.

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