Sunday, July 22, 2007

Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea

I had been looking for this book since i first heard about it a year ago and i finally found it at Barnes & Noble in Evanston this week when i was least expecting it.

This book is written by 25 yr old Saudi girl, Rajaa Alsanea. It examines the love life of four girls in their 20s from affluent families in the Islamic capital of the world, Riyadh.

I loved it. It's a page turner and a delightful read. It's the 'Sex and City' (the TV show, not the book. That book was awful) of Saudi Arabia. It proves that the story of the girls is the same whether they are in the ultra-liberal US or ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. They are all in pursuit of love.

To me this book was a continuation of Princess Sultana's Trilogy (Princess, Princess Sultana's Daughters & Princess Sultana's Circle) written by Jean Sasson. The trilogy shed light on women's life in Saudi Arabia from early times up until early 90's and this book picks up the thread from late 90s and portrays the present day situation which hasn't changed at all - Saudi is still a male dominated society where women are treated as second class citizens, women can't start their own businesses (this one is strange considering that Prophet's first wife Khadija was a business woman herself asaik), no dating and so on. However, this book itself represents a step forward in the direction of change:
- A young Saudi woman has taken the first step to stand up and say "I love & respect my religion and my country. But the rules by which we are living are archaic and they are suffocating me. I think we need to make some changes around here. Do others feel the same?"
- The government for it's part is helping spread awareness about the issues highlighted in the book by permitting to publish it in the kingdom and thereby encouraging discussion on the topic

India has some things in common with Saudi Arabia like the banning of valentine's day celebration by the moral police in some parts of India. If you think about it oppression of 'freedom of choice' exists everywhere in one form or the other.

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