In the Kingdom of Men

Kim Barnes

In 1967 Saudi Arabia is a company town. And the company is Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company. The Saudi government had yet to nationalize Aramco, and the country was run by Aramco executives along with the Saudi royal family.

A young American couple, Gin and Mason McPhee, come to Saudi Arabia to live. Mason has accepted a job with Aramco. They are given a luxurious house to live in, and provided with a gardener and houseboy to help them. While Mason works on a drilling platform for two weeks at a time, Gin is left to her own devices. She is young, impulsive, bored and lonely.

Gin bristles at the strictures of living in an Aramco compound in the middle of the desert. She doesn’t understand why she can’t just do what she wants-ride horses, explore the desert, even go anywhere off the compound alone. Gin and Mason are committed to the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They are distressed at the way Aramco treats the Bedouins who work for the company.

Their youth and ideals are not a good match for Aramco. Soon, Gin and Mason discover that the previous residents of their house were involved in a scam that resulted in poor equipment maintenance and the resulting deaths of a number of workers. Gin and Mason each want to bring this fraud to the attention of higher-ups. But communication has broken down between them, and they work at cross purposes. Meanwhile, Gin has become a writer and photographer for the company newsletter, and is discouraged and angry when the editor returns her photos as being unsuitable. She does not heed his warnings and continues to take forbidden photos.

This is a great book with great characters. In the history of Aramco we can see the seeds of today’s uneasy alliance between America and Saudi Arabia, as well as the politicization of the oil business.  In the Kingdom of Men would make a great movie. I hope someone out in Hollywoodland pays attention.


Published in hardcover-Knopf-2012

In the Kingdom of Men


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