Thursday, August 09, 2007
Book Report; "Girls of Riyadh"
If you're into Arabic chick lit, Girls of Riyadh is the book for you. If you're like me, and have never read Arabic chick lit, but are ready for some light summer reading, this is still the book for you.
Girls of Riyadh was first published in Lebanon, written in Arabic by Rajaa Al-Sanea,(left) a 24-year-old Saudi woman, studying to be a dentist when she wrote the book, and now, apparently working in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. The book was initially published in Lebanon because it was banned in Saudi Arabia, but has recently been allowed in that country, as well, and has become a best seller in Arab countries. (It is apparently not a best seller yet in this country, but give it time; it will benefit from word of mouth.)
The book is about four young upper class Saudi women and their love lives. Anyone who knows even a little about Saudi Arabia knows that it is a very conservative Islamic society, where women are required to be covered from head to foot, have very little interaction with men who are not family members and whose roles in society are very restricted. What this book does is show what goes on beneath the gowns and behind the closed doors. Surprise, surprise, people are pretty much the same everywhere. Underneath the gowns, the girls of Riyadh are wearing designer clothes, and spend much of their time dreaming, worrying and talking about men. Although nominally, their families may make the final decisions about whom they will marry, the women have ways of getting who and what they want -- but like people in the rest of the world sometimes discover that who and what they thought they wanted didn't turn out so good.
The book follows the lives of four friends, young women in their early 20s. The book opens by describing a wedding of one of the friends, but the young woman who is the envy of her peers soon discovers her new husband has other interests. Two of the other three women eventually get married, only one happily, and one, like the author, pursue a professional career. These women all come from families with money, and I have read some Arab criticism that it shows only the lives of privileged women, but so what, so did Jane Austin. One gets the feeling of authenticity; that Ms. Al-Sanea is depicting a life that she really knows about.
I am sure one reason I liked this book is because, like the Amish, the conservative Arab society is misunderstood by ordinary Americans, judged mainly by its severe rules and the pronouncements of its most extreme practioners. It is refreshing to read a book that does not romanticize its subjects, but shows their common humanity. This is not the book to read if you're only interested in great literature, although, it has as much claim to being great literature as Jane Austin's books. This is the book to read if you like to educate yourself in a light-hearted way about people you know little about.
I gave the book four stars.