I've just finished this and I was pretty impressed by the way the author managed to show the full extent of Jose's position as a Philippino/Kuwaiti, both in the Philippines and in Kuwait. I was also surprised to find that this is in fact a translation from Arabic, so full marks to Jonathan Wright, the translator.
Jose's mother, Josephine, was a Philippina maid in the Al-Tarouf household in Kuwait, when she fell in love with Rashid, the wayward, only son. Rashid loved his baby son but his mother was horrified and turned him out of the house. Not surprisingly, Josephine lost her job and she and her son were deported back home.
There is no news from Rashid for many years and Josephine's searches come back cold. But although Jose is raised in the Philippines, he always carries his father's promise that he will eventually return to be a son of Kuwait.
The book description reveals that he does manage to return to Kuwait, as a young man, so I'm not giving away any spoilers there. What he finds though, is probably the book's strongest part - it shows how the people are not primarily Kuwaiti, nor from a particular sect or class, their strongest allegiance is to the family name and it is pride in this that rules all their actions. Nothing must bring shame on the family, and a half Philippino son is not something to be proud of.
I can see why The Bamboo Stalk was winner of the 2013 International Prize for Arab Fiction - chosen both for its literary qualities and for “its social and humanitarian content.”
It is an excellent insight into the issues behind the phenomenon of expat workers into wealthy GCC countries.