The Closest I Will Come to Riyadh

I feel like reading as a hobby is polarizing: you either love it or hate it, rarely is there much in between. Personally, I fall in the love, adore, can’t live a day without it camp – lucky for yall because that means that from time to time I like to talk/write about the books I read 🙂 So I just finished four books on “insider” looks into Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start)! Where is Riyadh, you ask? Welcome to my amazing Photoshop skills…

The Gulf States with Barr and I over in the UAE and the red dot on the capital of Saudi

The Gulf States with Barr and I over in the UAE and the red dot on the capital of Saudi (I should put a floating Barr head over Riyadh given that he is currently staffed there – stay tuned for more posts on Riyadh a la Barr!)

As a bit of background, Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia, and is known as one of the more strict Islamic nations, keeping the laws of the Qur’ran and enforced by the police (Mutaween – a religious law enforcement team). While Riyadh can boast the world’s largest all female university (which is impressive!), it is due to the fact that women are truly separated from men in Saudi – this is strictly enforced.

Enter the books for review: Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea, Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia, Princess Sultana’s Daughters, and Princess Sultana’s Circle – a trilogy by Jean Sasson.

Four glimpses into a woman's life in Riyadh

Four glimpses into a woman’s life in Riyadh

Girls of Riyadh is told in the form of weekly emails that a twenty-something woman from Riyadh anonymous sends out to local Saudi friends, that have been translated from the original Arabic and catalogued into this page turner. It tells the stories of four girls from Riyadh (duh) – their romances, trials and tribulations with parents, schools, and friends – and while some of their stories mirror those that I myself experienced (hello emotional roller coaster of teenage female years), their experiences are tinged with the completely different angle of growing up in this Islamic society. Fun tidbit: when this book was first published, it was banned across Saudi Arabia due to much of its controversial content – you gotta read it to find out what that content entails…

That brings me to the Princess Trilogy – yall, I’ve got to say, I read these three novels in a week – I was that engrossed. These books are based on the true stories of one of the many (ahem, upwards of hundreds) Al Saud princesses, Sultana (name has been changed to protect the princess).  Jean Sasson really weaves Sultana’s tales together artfully to both give the books a cohesive tangent as well as explain the hardships that Sultana and her nine sisters underwent to balance tradition with breaking free from what they see as an oppressive lifestyle for women. There was story after story that will make you cringe/cry and cheer – Sultana is a firecracker! I also learned a bit about the founding of modern day Saudi Arabia and the Al Saud family (the Royal family of Saudi Arabia). I swear, you will not be able to put this book down.

For any of these books, I urge you to read them, but take each with a grain of salt. All are a few years old and so much changes in the Middle East have occurred – skylines and customs alike! Just because something was discussed in the book as having happened ten years ago, doesnt mean that its practiced in Saudi today. Furthermore, these are stories from a very specific sect of women in Riyadh – not everyone’s story is the same. All the same, dont skip these books – just take ’em with a grain of salt!

Alrighty, enough book club for now (though probably not forever!) Happy Hump Day, and until next time…(PS – the title of this post “The Closet I Will Ever Get to Riyadh” is in reference to the fact that its very challenging for females to obtain a visa to go to Saudi Arabia slash I dont think many would describe Riyadh as a tourist capital!)

7 responses to “The Closest I Will Come to Riyadh

  1. Been catching up on your blog and loving everything! Plus, I was just looking for a new book to read and I’ve downloaded the 1st of the Princess trilogy to start tonight! 🙂

  2. So glad you posted about various books regarding women in Saudi Arabia. Sadly, although there are some positive changes in Saudi Arabia, the positives are uneven. While some women are enjoying more freedom, too many are still in abusive situations, and there are no laws to protect these women. Quite simply, everyone, including officials, refuse to become involved in family matters. Princess Sultana and I are working on book 4, which will detail the changes for Saudi Arabia women, the good and the bad. It is just now being written, so the pub date is scheduled for September 2014. Doubleday — Thanks, again — it’s great when any book starts dialogue about the struggles of women, regardless of where they might life. Jean Sasson

  3. *where they might LIVE. (sorry)

  4. What an HONOR to have you read and comment (!) on my blog and this post – I was deeply moved by Princess Sultana’s stories, and have spread the word to friends and family back in the states and here in Dubai to read as well. Already looking forward to book 4 – thank you so much for the books and educating so many on the situation in different parts of the world.

  5. Hi, what a great blog. I have read all of these books too. My favorite is Princess, as well as the other 2 books that Jean Sasson wrote. The books were so inspirational because even though Princess Sultana is a member of royalty halfway around the world I still felt like I knew her and could relate to her. Her true stories transcend culture and are timeless.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Marsha! I introduced the books to my mom as well, and her book club just finished Princess and loved it as well! Jean Sasson said she is in the midst of writing the next tome – I cant wait 🙂

  6. Hi all! Just to let you know that PRINCESS, MORE TEARS TO CRY will be released August 28 2014 — so, it is on the way, bringing all readers up to date on the status of women in Saudi Arabia in the year 2014. A lot of intriguing questions will be answered! Thanks, again. HAPPY READING! Jean