Columbia One Read author explores geographical and cultural boundaries

Sep 6, 2013

Credit Shane Epping

What happens when you put together a blue-eyed blonde Texas woman with a handsome Saudi man living in a traditional Saudi culture, and throw in a young secular Arab blogger and a young Muslim man rediscovering his fundamentalist roots? And, specifically, what happens when they’re all in the same family? If that sounds familiar, it's because that family is the Baylani family, whose relationships with each other, their country and their cultures are explored in the novel, The Ruins of Us.

The book is Columbia’s One Read book this year, and it’s by Columbia author Keija Parssinen.

We spoke with Parssinen recently here in KBIA studios, where she talked about writing, place, displacement and the yearning for home and community.

Parssinen says writing the novel provided a chance for her to rediscover one of the homelands of her childhood, Saudi Arabia, and to cross cultural and geographical boundaries that were off limits to her as a child growing up on an oil compound in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

Parssinen says for many Americans, truly growing up means going abroad. For her, the events of 9/11 provided a wake-up call that made her realize, as a junior in college, that there was a lot she had to learn about the true relationships between her Saudi home and her American one.

"I was very naive about the Saudi-American relationship. Obviously it was more complex than I realized," says Parssinen. "And I really wanted to experience it. So it was a real pleasure to learn more about the real Saudi Arabia, but at the same time it was sad for me too, to realize how fraught that relationship was. You know, that my parents' friendships and the bon ami between my father and his colleagues didn't really extend to the national level, to the two countries. There were the individual relationships, and then there were the national relationships. So it was really eye-opening for me."

So, what questions do you have for Keija Parssinen, and what comments do you have about The Ruins of Us? You can join host Ryan Famuliner and producer Rehman Tungekar in a chat with Parssinen on the program Intersection this coming Monday at 2, here on KBIA and on kbia.org. The Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia is hosting a series of talks and events related to this year’s One Read selection.