Hardback | 304 pages | ISBN 9781594201219 | 12 Jul 2007 | The Penguin Press Canada
Rajaa Alsanea and Marilyn Booth
Sex and the Saudi Girl from The Sunday Times
Saudi Arabia Women from The National Geographic
Let me introduce you to four young women, Gamrah, Lamees, Michelle and Sadeem. All four well-to-do women are from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and I was delighted to make their acquaintance through Rajaa Alsanea's book "Girls of Riyadh" بنات الرياض, because Saudi society being as conservative and closed as it is, it is unlikely I would have been able to make friends with them through any other avenue.
"Girls of Riyadh" follows the lives, tribulations and loves of these four girls as they go through life in Saudi Arabia.
Gamrah Al-Qusmanji , is married off by her conservative family to Rashid who was emotionally cruel to her because he was in love with the family's Filipino maid. Shortly after Gamrah becomes pregnant Rashid divorces her and she is forced to return to her parents' home in Riyadh where it is not at all fun to be a divorced woman. She learns to take refuge in the internet where she gets to chatting with various men under a cloak of anonymity (because the society is such a prohibitive one, many Saudi women have turned to the internet for relationships)
Mashael Al-Abdulrahman , better known as Michelle, is the daughter of a Saudi father and an American mother. She spends her formative years in the US and cannot adjust to the conservative thinking that pervades Saudi Arabia. She is a rebel through and through and is only able to come into her own when she leaves Riyadh for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Lamees Jeddawi is a young and brilliant student of medicine, but one who learns from her friends' mistakes and is determine not to fail at relationships as they have done. Does she succeed?
Sadeem Al-Horaimli is my favorite character. She was betrothed to Waleed, a young man she grew very attached to, so attached that she agreed to sleep with him before their wedding (something that is not usually done in Saudi arranged marriages). However, Waleed, being a conservative Saudi man, branded her a loose character and broke the engagement off immediately. She had no better luck with Firas who loved her but couldn't marry her because his parents could not reconcile themselves to having a daughter-in-law with a terminated engagement.
The story of these girls and and their very different outlooks on life is told to us by an anonymous narrator through a series of e-mail postings, sent to her online chat site. It is through these e-mails that the reader is introduced to Saudi society and its conservative views on gender roles, marriage, divorce, sex, class, race and so on.
Having lived in the Middle East for many years I had always heard that Saudi society was conservative and that their women, even though they are swimming in wealth, were nothing more than chattels for their men, but I had always hoped it was an urban myth. However, to see it all confirmed by this Saudi writer makes me feel truly happy for the freedom I experience as a woman. Not for all the gold and BMW's in this world would I want to exchange places with any one of those women in the book. And yet again, they are so much luckier than some of the women elsewhere in the Muslim world who are equally put down by their men but don't have the money to act as a balm.
I commend Rajaa Alsanea for writing this remarkable book, although it is no literary masterpiece, it is ground breaking in that this is probably the first time a Saudi woman has dared to write about all the difficulties her gender experiences in the Kingdom. A group of Saudi citizens have filed a lawsuit against Al-Sania for slandering Saudi society and although the book hasn't been banned officially in Saudi Arabia many of the book stores refuse to carry it.
According to Reuters, the success of "Girls of Riyadh" has spurred on the publication of many other Saudi Arabian novels:
Critics have noted that sexual relationships dominate in the output of the new writers, with sensational titles such as "al-Hobb fil Saudiyya", Arabic for "Love in Saudi" and "Fosouq", which means "Debauchery".
One example is "al-Akharun" ("The Others") by a woman using the pen name Siba al-Harz. It has attracted attention because of its dark treatment of lesbianism, guilt and marginalization among Saudi Arabia's minority Shi'ite Muslims, as well as its sophisticated use of classical Arabic.It's easy to see why sex would dominate the work of these novelists. Women in Saudi Arabia grow up cocooned and segregated. They are never allowed to mix with men unless they are related, they aren't allowed to drive or work (unless it's as a teacher or a doctor), they can hardly go anywhere unchaperoned. They are not allowed to pick their own husbands, they are not even allowed to pick their own girlfriends... so their private worlds and thoughts are fertile ground for literature.
This book is an engaging and entertaining read, it is chick lit, but the enlightening kind. Pick it up and read it this summer, you'll enjoy the read.
The wonderful Gentle Reader from Shelflife tagged me with a meme which is both, helpful and fun, the Blogging Tips Meme. This is what you have to do:
When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside those that you like. (Check out especially the * starred ones.)
Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.
After that, tag 10 other people. Link love some friends!
Just think- if 10 people start this, the 10 people pass it onto another 10 people, you have 100 links already!
1. Look, read, and learn. -http://www.neonscent.com/
2. Be, EXCELLENT to each other. -http://www.bushmackel.com/
3. Don’t let money change ya! -http://www.therandomforest.info/
4. Always reply to your comments. *****-http://chattiekat.com/
5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. **-http://chipsquips.com/
6. Don’t give up - persistence is fertile. -http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/
7. Give link credit where credit is due. ***-http://www.sfsignal.com/
8. Pictures say a thousand words and can usually add to any post.**-http://scifichick.com/
9. Visit all the bloggers that leave comments for you - it's nice to know who is reading! **-http://stephaniesbooks.blogspot.com/
10. When commenting on others’ blogs, a few kind words go a long way. *–http://shelflifeblog.blogspot.com/
11. Whenever possible try engaging your reader friends/bloggers with a question or a little survey,nothing like a little interaction. *-http://lotusreads.blogspot.com
Quite a few people have been tagged already, so I won't tag anyone specific, but please feel free to pick up the tag or else it dies here :(
Thank you Gentle Reader, this was fun to do!
Bonnie at Bonnie's Books is doing a great job of keeping the meme updated. You can check it out here