He registered Theo’s skepticism with a nod. “Kuwait is far worse. The class-consciousness here will shock you. If you’re not Kuwaiti born and bred, you’re no one; and if you’re so unfortunate as to be a South Asian housemaid or laborer, you’re worthless, invisible, and in constant danger. Look at me. I’m an Arab. I’ve lived here for twenty years. But I’m not a Kuwaiti citizen because I’m Palestinian. The reason they didn’t run me out during the war is because I’m a good businessman—and I’m married to Jane. Only Jordan has offered citizenship to Palestinians. No other Arab nation has done this, though the Israelis droves us from our homes in 1948. The Kuwaitis put up with us because we’re well-educated and willing to work hard. We make lots of money for them. But they don’t like us and they don’t trust us. They think we’re vulgar and inferior. So we live in our neighborhoods and they live in theirs.”
Anastasia Hobbet beautifully crafted a complex, layered story about the abuse of a household servant in Kuwait. This event draws together a wide variety of people who may never associate with each other: Theo, an American from California, working at a hospital clinic; Mufeeda, an upper-class Kuwaiti woman; Hanaan, a Palestinian female activist; Kit, a rather naïve American from Oklahoma, whose husband is an engineer for an American construction company and lives in the same wealthy neighborhood as Mufeeda; and Emanuella, a cook from India, who risks losing her sponsorship to remain in Kuwait.
Moving from character to character and each individual story, Hobbet provides a rich background about life in Kuwait and the complex structure of the Middle East where class divisions remain strong, Americans and British are simultaneously despised [“Americans aren’t exotic. How can they be? Everyone knows America outside and inside. You’re all over the television and movies.”] and coveted [Mufeeda’s children attend a private school where they learn English], arcane laws and customs [sometimes honor killings still secretly occur] remain in place, yet Kuwait, compared to other Arab nations appears modern.
Small Kingdoms reads part-history, part-character study and part-mystery. It’s an elaborate work of literature. Hobbet enlightens us about the modern day Middle East which still has many flaws and disparity despite its outward appearances, especially Kuwait, an ally of the United States. Hobbet meticulously crafted and developed each character in such a detailed way that the reader begins to understand his or her motives. Each character jumps off the page so vividly and memorably. Despite being from different social, economic, political, and religious backgrounds, Hobbet makes us empathize with each character and gradually know why each character is how he or she is which makes the plot flow with poise and grace. The most brutal event brings together people who might never normally speak or socialize to solve a vital issue that makes all the difference to someone’s life. Small Kingdoms speaks boldly and elegantly about the power of humanity and honesty in the name of justice and fairness, by putting aside religion and politics to help someone less fortunate. Just to take a few moments to quiet down, stop and show empathy and compassion every once in a while. Small Kingdoms is a stunning novel: in its powerful story and masterful writing.
Look for Small Kingdoms at your local Indie Bookseller on January 15.