Monday, 15 August 2011

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

Girls of Riyadh

by

Rajaa Alsanea

Sex in the City Saudi style is the hype surrounding this book which takes the form of email supposedly sent by a Saudi woman to chat rooms on the internet in which she discusses her circle of friends,their love affairs, marriages and divorces à la Carrie Bradshaw.
A bit of a chick  lit read, but many of the interactions with boys and men we will all relate to – the ups and downs of love, of trying to find “the one” and settling for something else. I liked Un Nuwayyir’s analysis of men and women – too long to reproduce here  - she classifies men and women on the basis of strength of personality (the strong, the weak), self confidence (the secure, the insecure) , religious type(extremely, moderate, wild) etc and I suspect we can all place our lovers somewhere on that grid.
The novel paints a dire picture of Saudi men as weak willed, overwhelmingly bound by tradition and family, not devoid of love but willing to sacrifice it rather than break with traditional principles – saying you want a love match and being able to stand up to be counted when you find it and it is deemed “unsuitable” are quite different matters. At least none of her characters ended up with quite the same deadly fate as has found some men and women in real life even in my home country when they have sought to break with their cultural tradition and marry outside it for love.
For a westerner like me  definitely some moments of insight into what life must be like there: just how important  the mobile phone is as the only way to talk to a member of the opposite sex without anyone else being present, whilst the very same mobile phone records are scanned by prospective partners for traces of a “previous”; how everyone, men and women, change aboard planes just prior to landing back into traditional garb; where the girls every word, every action is watched and scrutinised by mothers on the look out for prospective spouses for their beloved sons; where marriage suitability is not just a question of belonging to a particular religious faction but also about the tribal discrimination between people’s from different parts of the country .
ashramblings verdict: (3*) It’s not a great book by any means, but it is one the banning of which in its homeland sets it up as a catalyst for discussion.

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