Here, Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Close Your Eyes, interviews Keija Parssinen, author of The Ruins of Us--a timely story about intolerance, family, and the injustices we endure for love.
AW: The Ruins of Us is an interesting twist on the ever-popular infidelity storyline. Did the idea for this multi-faceted novel originate with a polygamous marriage?
KP: Actually, it originated from something far more nebulous than that. It began with nostalgia for Saudi Arabia, a place of my past, a home I couldn’t return to. One of the themes of the book is longing. Rosalie longs for the Saudi Arabia of her childhood, Faisal longs for his loving family of the past, Abdullah longs for the passionate bond he and Rosalie enjoyed as young people. When I started writing The Ruins of Us, I was recovering from my parents’ divorce, which had occurred six years earlier. I merely connected my two great griefs—the loss of my home and the loss of my family. The Rosalie/Abdullah story was at first a peripheral part of the narrative.
AW: The novel is told from various perspectives. Did you ever consider writing the novel just from Rosalie’s point-of-view?
KP:She is the protagonist of the book, but surprisingly, I never considered telling the story from her perspective. I actually find writing in one voice to be limiting and a bit boring. I knew I couldn’t tell this story solely from an American perspective, as I wanted Faisal and Abdullah to give us a glimpse into their culture-specific rationalizations while also revealing their universal aches and desires. Dan’s voice came easily to me and I related to him the most. I liked his sense of humor, and in Saudi society, he’s an outsider, like me. It took me years and many revisions to realize that Rosalie holds the story together because all the characters connect through her.
AW: Much of your work draws on the Middle East and its various political situations. What keeps bringing you back to this region? As an expatriate yourself, did you always know that your debut novel would be set in Saudi Arabia?
KP: In the New Yorker, Wendell Stevenson asks Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany if he’s planning to write a novel about the recent revolution. He says that’s akin to asking someone if they’re going to fall in love, and with whom. He’s right—I don’t think a novelist has much control when it comes to the subjects that are captivating and mysterious. I knew that Saudi Arabia entranced and obsessed me, and those are two necessary qualities of any novelist’s subject matter. The Middle East is not easily understood or explained, and I find those complexities riveting.
Additionally, I’ve always felt that I was forced to leave my home—Saudi Arabia—before I was ready to let it go. By writing about the country, I’m able to hold on to it just a little bit longer.