16 October 2013

Harvesting Stones - a Book Review.

Following my recent review of Drinking Camel’s Milk in the Yurt I was asked to review Paula Lucas’ autobiography, Harvesting Stones.  While both books write about the expatriate experience they could not be more different in terms of the atmosphere they evoke. 

Drinking Camel’s Milk in the Yurt is a celebration of all that is best about life as an expat.  Harvesting Stones, by contrast, is a harrowing window into a living nightmare.  Paula’s story starts with her childhood in an ordinary (if complicated) Californian family and follows her move to the big city where she meets her future husband.  The book then goes through details of their courtship, marriage and move to Dubai.  The relationship deteriorates, becoming steadily more abusive until Paula is forced to escape to the United States with her children.

Paula’s memoir is both readable and compelling.  Like many women in similar situations Paula missed the red flags, seduced by a charming, manipulative, sophisticated, sadistic man.  From the moment Paula meets her future husband, the reader is left with a terrible sense of the inevitable.  His controlling nature (so obvious in retrospect) leaps off the page and the most disturbing aspect of the story is the fact that her husband’s family were complicit in the abuse of both Paula and her children, at the least through failing to act to protect them.
Paula’s story should act as a warning for all expatriates.  It shows how the protections we take for granted in our home countries can be impossible to access abroad and the support provided by Embassies can often be tied up in red tape and bureaucracy.  It also highlights how important expatriate support networks can be; those of us who live an expatriate life are responsible for and to our friends.  This lesson that I take from this book is that I need to be more aware of my friends and their children, to keep an eye out for them and be ready and willing to support them when they need it.  I am confident that they are all ok but I hope that we are type of people they can turn to should they ever need to.

Harvesting Stones is a story of true grit and determination – Paula does succeed in outwitting her husband and saving both her children and herself.  Not only that but she managed to found two charities, the Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Centre and the Sexual Assault Support & Help for Americans Abroad Program.  Paula is a brave and inspirational woman who has turned her traumatic experiences into a personal vocation; her story deserves to be heard.  

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Ersatz Expat

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