For Jill, a young American living in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, life is in “a holding pattern” of long days in a restrictive place-“sandlocked nowhere,” as another expat calls it. Others don’t know how to leave, and try to adopt the country as their own. And to those who were born there, the changes seem to come at warp speed: Thurayya, the daughter of a Bedouin chief, later finds herself living in a Riyadh high-rise where, she says, there are “worlds wound together with years.”
The characters in the linked stories in Triple Time are living an uneasy mesh of two divergent cultures, in a place where tradition and progress are continually in flux. These are tales of confliction-of old and new, rich and poor, sexual repression and personal freedom. We experience a barren yet strangely beautiful landscape jolted by sleek glass apartment towers and opulent fountains. On the fringes of urbanity, Bedouins traverse the desert in search of the next watering hole.
Beneath a surface of cultural upheaval, the stories hold deeper, more personal meanings. They tell of yearnings-for a time lost, for a homeland, for belonging, and for love. Anne Sanow reveals much about the culture, psyche, and essence of life in modern Saudi Arabia, where Saudis struggle to keep their traditions and foreigners muddle through in search of a quick buck or a last chance at making a life for themselves in a world that is quickly running out of hiding places.
This atmospheric collection of stories gives us glimpses into the lives of a wide range of people-native Saudis and expatriates. The book pulls us in with the power of its details and evocation of places and emotions. We become immersed in the characters' experiences of love, loss, and self-discovery. Sanow avoids exoticism and makes us understand that people's concerns, sorrows, senses of loss and joy are similar, no matter what country they live in.
The Americans in this collection of exquisite dilemmas have farmed the Saudi desert and debauched themselves in the capital for so long that they have forgotten America. The Saudis, born in Bedouin tents and dying in Riyadh skyscrapers, have lived two thousand years of change in a single lifetime. By fusing all their concisely rendered but capacious lives into a single story, Anne Sanow has made a brief epic.
Sanow brings Saudi Arabia to life in seven windswept tales. Each character grapples with the strictures of Saudi society and the rapid changes affecting the nation, both from the outside and from within. A fascinating glimpse into a world with which many Westerners are unfamiliar.
Fascinating . . . The temptation here is to label this an exotic and esoteric book, but it is the iconic characters that provide the fulcrum for these seven linked stories. Memorable books such as this reinforce the old saw that people are always more interesting than places.
[The stories] detail a sense of isolation through a range of intriguing characters.
Impressive. A complexly rendered fresco that delves into a country undergoing explosive change tempered with expat Americans who have been there so long there may be no going back to anything else. . . The stories stand alone as a masterful telling. But there is a thread only revealed toward the end which makes them all the more powerful.
'Triple Time' presents the sensual picture of a singular place and the displaced inhabitants who people it. . . .The real achievement of this book, which has deservedly won the prestigious Drue Heinz Literature Prize, is its abounding elegant evocation of places natural and manufactured.
A unique reading experience . . . Most impressive are Sanow's descriptions of landscape, both natural and man-made, which highlight her skill at evoking mood. These radiant and compelling stories challenge the reader to reimagine what a story collection can accomplish, what sort of impression a collection can achieve.
Does everything that a work of fiction set in a much-mystified country should: it provides us with an insider's view of the many sides of the culture and forces us to query our assumptions about it, all the while presenting us with wonderful stories and characters who are the antithesis of stereotypes—vivid, fully formed, and flawed, yet filled with hope and yearning.
Anne Sanow was born and raised in California and moved to Saudi Arabia for two years following her high school graduation. Her stories have appeared in Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, Crab Orchard Review, and Malahat Review, among other publications. She has been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize.learn more