Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Beyond the Veil: The Adventures of an American Doctor in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of oil and arguably one of the most powerful economic and political players in the Middle East. The “War on Terror” has led to an explosion of interest in the Arabian Peninsula, often focussed on religion and extremism.

Seymour Gray's Beyond the Veil offers a refreshing and astonishing insight into the medical culture in Saudi Arabia. It explores how an American doctor and his wife settle into a way of life very different to their own and the difficulties and surprises they encounter along the way. Based primarily at the King Faisal Hospital in Riyadh, the first flirtations of Western traditions with young Saudi minds are set against a backdrop of efficient medical secretaries, private medical jets and demanding but very charismatic patients.

We discover how a state of the art hospital contributed to the spread of knowledge and medical education amongst a once largely nomadic people, and how demand for the best medical care in the world led sometimes to unjust treatment of the ex-pat healthcare workforce.

This book digs deep into Saudi morality, exploring sex and relationships, religion, business, partying, oil, and how a young royal family like to spend their money. Gray is very good at making us see how a Saudi assumes his position in the world. A turbulent shift is taking place in the minds of Saudis trying to cling onto religious values that are not fully compatible with the cultural, technological and political development that is stirring.

Published almost two decades prior to 9/11, it is refreshing to come across a narrative that takes an objective view at a country that was virtually unchanged for a thousand years before the discovery of black gold. Beyond the Veil is an easy read, and through Dr Gray’s experiences we learn a great deal about a country that is thought to be on the verge of a social revolution.


aj said...

What a super review. I must read it.

Giskin said...

Yes, how very interesting. Thanks for this, Taz.