Like a magpie drawn to a sparkling object, I picked this book up because I simply couldn’t resist the cover. Lashings of hot purple, on a black background, with beautiful gold swirls beckoned me to the story within. And what a story it was.
Girls of Riyadh is written by a 25-year-old Saudi Arabian woman, Rajaa Alsanea. She takes us into the lives of her girlfriends, hidden under a veil of dark cloth, to reveal love, loss and learning. Cleverly emailing a Yahoo email group every Friday, our narrator tells the stories of four young women in the Arabian city of Riyadh – a city of wealth, oil and religion. Where a Western business philosophy works side by side with ancient traditions, and where technology in the way of dating websites and text messages is the sole form of communication allowed during traditional wedding arrangements.
Yet the book itself has its own story. From the inside dust jacket: It was released in Lebanon in Arabic in September 2005 and immediately became a sensation all over the Arab world. Apparently some considered the author, who had since become a celebrity overnight, to be courageous in writing so openly about the conflict of educated modern Saudi women growing up in the 21st century in a culture firmly rooted in an ancient way of life. While others believed that the novel was disrespectful to Saudi women by exposing their closely guarded private live to the public! Meanwhile, scholars and critics throughout the Arab world hailed the book as a breakthrough in Arabic literature, some going so far as to label it “the first modern Arab novel.”
I found this book gave a fascinating, yet light hearted, insight into the lives of these young 20-something-year-olds in such an intriguing part of the world. My geographic knowledge of Saudi Arabia is pretty minimal I’d have to admit but this book has certainly sparked an interest. And while reading it, the latest movie on at the local IMAX theatre was none other than... Arabia! What a coincidence!