Saudi Arabia: Modern Girls in a Traditional World

I had high expectations regarding this book, for some reason. The Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea is a book about four rich Saudi twentysomethings, young women living their lives, dreaming about other lives. In many ways it is a typical tradition versus modern type of a book, because women are dressed in black head to toe, and yet they love, have naughty thoughts and relations. Naturally, in a country that banned women from driving cars a woman must dress up as a man to drive a car – and if money is not a problem – they will do it.

The weekly emails sent out to followers are written by an unnamed author telling the stories of Gamrah, Sadeem, Michelle, and Lamees. They all lead different lives, under the pressure of their family obligations, getting married to the right man according to the family, and under strict rules of religion. They still have the same dreams that anyone else in the world, and they find their own outlets to live some parts of their dreams.

Due to the content of the book it was of course banned in Saudi Arabia, the book was already a bestseller, and it caught the attention of the West. I found out that the English version of the book is edited, which I find sad. I can read about privileged girls shopping, putting on makeup and talking about their boyfriends in so many books, but in a case like this, these things actually have a very different meaning because of the setting.

I can understand that the way the book is originally written might not open up to Western reader the way it is written, but the translated version of the book, mainly the way it was written, did not get any extra points from me. The world these girls live in is so different from mine, and that is the fascinating part. Men rule, women obey, I know it. This is the part that is less fascinating.

I guess, “Apparently, all men were the same. It was just like God had given them different faces just so that women would be able to tell them apart” sums it up nicely. God and men. The ones that matter. The ones who rule. The rest obeys. Still worth a read, but the execution could have been a bit better.

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