December 30, 2011

Girls of Riyadh

 In Jarir Bookstore, two weeks ago I first noticed the bright red cover of the Girls of Riyadh. It was on an end-of-aisle display of the Top 10 Bestsellers. I picked it up, and didn’t want to put it down until I finished it a few days later.

Amazing that it was there! It was banned when it was first published in Arabic, in about 2005.

The author, a 25-year-old Saudi woman Rajaa Alsanea living now in the US, wrote the book as it developed through a series of emails. Every Friday she sent another chapter anonymously to her yahoogroup email list.

There is some controversy about whether the book is disclosing things that are too obvious, while others say it’s too outrageous and unbelievable. But for me, it seems to reflect many aspects of the lives of our students. Our girls are from the more well-to-do slice of Saudi society, and what they talk about seems to be in sync with the author’s tales.

The difference is that in class we are restricted from discussing or debating many of the details of their lives. For example, any mention of the possibility of a boyfriend is strictly prohibited. This book offers answers to basic questions I had like, if girls aren’t allowed to ever be in groups or alone with guys other than their relatives, how the heck do they get married? Are they all arranged marriages?

The Girls of Riyadh paints the pictures of how girls and guys meet: at the mall, in the workplace or higher education for medical students (for example), or through friends of friends. And yes, through the arranged meetings of their families.

There are tons of cultural references about Saudi society, which confirms what I’ve been experiencing from the very outermost layers. It’s an interesting, easy read that I’d recommend to anyone.

It’s also inspirational that a 25-year-old had the self discipline and courage to write, what unbeknownst to her, would become a hit worldwide.

About the Author joangregerson

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