East of Mecca

Originally published January 2015

As someone who loves to read and has a stack of books a mile high, I’m the first to admit the self-published work gets shuffled to the bottom pretty quickly.

It’s not for lack of interest. It’s a prioritization thing. Limited time means I read what most interests me first. That said, some of my favorite reads in the last few years have been from newbie local authors, including Lynne Raimondo and Dina Silver. And it was Sheila Flaherty’s persistence, after reading my blog about Raif Badawi, that had me carve out time for her book, East of Mecca.

I’m glad I did.

Flaherty isn’t necessarily the next Khaled Hosseini, but that isn’t a bad thing—it’s simply different. Her story comes from a Westerner’s perspective—that of the wife of a man who accepts a job in Saudi Arabia and takes his family on a planned, three-year assignment in the Middle East. What’s first welcomed as a chance to regain footing financially and expose the family to different cultures quickly becomes a lesson in human rights, and in particular, those of women.

When Sarah and Max Hayes move to Saudi from Evanston, Illinois with their two young children, Kate and Sam, the culture shock comes quick and hard. And it’s one that Sarah and the kids never really adjust to successfully. Without giving away too much, I can say this—know exactly who your husband is and whether your relationship is on solid ground before you travel to a country that you can’t easily extricate yourself from.

And while the events that take place in East of Mecca are dramatic, suspenseful and in several cases terrifying, remember this—in Saudi, women still have few rights and yes, can be stoned to death. Ladies, want to drive to Mariano’s for that gallon of milk? Not happening in Saudi Arabia. Anyone want to promote free speech? Not happening in Saudi Arabia.

East of Mecca is gripping—you’ll want to keep reading to see just what happens to Sarah, Kate and Yasmeen, even when you know it’s just not going to end well. My only real head-scratching moments come from Sarah’s relationship with Max, in that I find it hard to believe he takes such a dark turn in the face of horrible events, it seems a little unbelievable. Maybe that’s because I married such a good guy.

Perfect quick weekend read, waiting in the car line or for hockey practice to be over—accessible and easy to follow. And heartbreaking, indeed.

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