A Thousand and One Coffee Mornings
Scenes from Saudi Arabia
Published by Peter Owen, 1989
I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from 1983 – 85. These short stories describe the curious lives of expatriate women in a country where women are not allowed to drive, wear normal Western clothes or eat in public with a man they are not married or related to. Strains appear in marriages and women who once felt confident and equal to men have to question their worldview.
A Thousand and One Coffee Mornings was nominated for the Macmillan Silver Pen Prize.
Described by his physician as a ‘sensitive person in brutal surroundings’, Richard Dadd, the Victorian painter who studied at the RA, was incarcerated in Bedlam for patricide at the height of his career. Haunted by childhood fairies and Shakespeare’s sprites, Dadd painted fantastical otherworlds that transported him beyond the hospital’s walls. Miller illuminates Dadd’s plight through a first-person narrative, and brings his paintings to life with vivid ekphrasis.
Poignant and haunting
…brilliant at voices, whether English northern, Home-counties genteel, American brash, Arabian or Indian. From Barbara’s letters to an unloving son there emerges a wonderfully rounded character, capable equally of observation and compassion. Where other Western women see ‘farce and food for gossip’ in the monstrous ways of the male Arab, Barbara perceives ‘tragedy, betrayal and cruelty…….’ Clearly, Miranda Miller had a fairly rotten time in Saudi Arabia. The result is riveting: a culture shock sharp enough to send me back to the Koran, where it is indeed written that women are inferior to men and may be beaten, and that men in paradise will be served by bashful virgins.
Miranda Miller’s sketches are sensitive, exact, often very funny. Brainless women shop in the gold souk; men count their cash; behind every expatriate door ferments illicit liquor, with its “alchemical bubblings and gurglings, ready to explode when the temperature rises.”