Thursday, 11 October 2018

Painting Kuwait Violet by Pamela Q. Fernandes

Painting Kuwait Violet by Pamela Q. Fernandes
Published by Solstice Publishing on the 3rd September 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Hands

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Waterstones (unavailable)
Amazon US / Amazon UK

In 1996, a young graduate, Violet Baretto leaves Goa to work in oil-rich Kuwait as a maid for a wealthy Kuwaiti woman. To her horror, she finds herself accused of theft, her colleagues assaulted, thrown from moving cars or performing 'favors.'

Sabah Dashti, the Kuwaiti matriarch can't tell Violet the truth; nine of Sabah's previous maids have absconded, five of them were found pregnant or that the police think she's running a prostitution ring. Sabah has no idea who's responsible.

Kuwait is still patriarchal and women are second-class citizens. Despite their differences, both Sabah and Violet are hungry for success as it will give them a chance to live life on their own terms. Together they build a thriving business. But a woman-hating killer has set eyes on them and will not let them succeed at any cost.

Poignant, chilling and honest, Painting Kuwait Violet underlines the reality of women on either side of the country's class divide.

I chose to read Painting Kuwait Violet because of its Arab setting and because Fernandes is a Kuwaiti-born author - making her novel an addition to my WorldReads project. The cover illustration suggested that the book might not be perfectly suited to my tastes and I did have problems with some aspects, however overall this is quite an enjoyable read. It's a light story without much intensity or depth, but does give some interesting insights into Kuwaiti culture and the day to day lives of both the extremely rich Kuwaiti citizens and their army of foreign workers. We are repeatedly told how badly domestic staff in particular are treated by their employers, but I didn't really see much evidence of this with regards to Violet's situation once she has overcome Aliya's teenage tantrums. The maids work hard for long hours with the darker events glossed over, perhaps hidden because nobody chooses to see. Instead Violet seems to ingratiate herself easily into Sadah's good graces. For me this seemed rather unrealistic. Violet may have had a college education, but if the prejudice we were informed of really is as strong as was maintained, her opinions surely wouldn't have counted for anything?

Painting Kuwait Violet is told from two perspectives. The primary narrative is that of Violet coming to terms with her new life as a maid and making the best of her situation. I liked this storyline and think if the book had concentrated on aspects such as the blossoming friendship between the maids and the mutual business respect between Violet and Sadah, it would have been a stronger work. Instead this frequently felt too rushed. I wanted more detail about how these women were growing their couture business together, especially in such a male-dominated society as Kuwait.

However those chapters are interspersed with odd sections from the point of view of a threatening unknown male character who we know is violently abusive to the domestic staff and murdered Violet's predecessor. I suppose that this narrative was meant to add tension to the story, but I never felt that it satisfactorily coalesced with the main storyline. Occasionally the police put in a brief appearance to tell Sadah that she really should do something about the way her maids are abused, and the unknown male growls his misogynistic speeches, but, for me, this aspect was too far removed to be convincing. The book became neither an inspiring tale of female empowerment in a male world nor a tense serial killer thriller. Instead it fails somewhere between the two stools which is a shame.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Pamela Q Fernandes / Women's fiction / Books from Kuwait


  1. oh this one sounds like one of those powerful reads about women rights that I love so much! Too bad the way it was executed was so weird!

    1. Yes, it felt to me like two novels slammed together and I wondered if they wouldn't have been stronger as independent stories.