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Cannonball Read #37: Girls of Riyadh

04/13/2010

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea is billed on the back cover by Time Magazine “Imagine Sex in the City if the city in question were Riyadh.” Though quite mild compared to the antics of Carrie and her friends, this novel was banned in its home country for the portrayal of secular life in Saudi Arabia.

Originally written in several types of Arabic, classical, Lebanese-Arabic, English-Arabic, Girls of Riyadh portrays emails to a Yahoo group that detail the stories of four women in that city as they seek love, happiness, and husbands. Sadeem, Gamrah, Mashael (known as Michelle), and Lamees make their way through their structured culture. Each woman has various encounters with men and tries to find their place in the world – professionally and romantically . We get to see how the Arabic society views women and men and all of the restrictions placed on each.

We hear through texts, phone calls, and chat rooms how Gamrah’s husband divorces her after she discovers he is having an affair with a woman since prior to their marriage. In another storyline Michelle and a man named Faisal adore each other, but he gives her up based on his family’s wishes.

I suspect that the novel was more effective in the original Arabic, because the differences in classical vs. modern language would have been much more apparent. This debut novel caused quite a scandal at the time though, and certainly illuminated features of this society of which I hadn’t known. I commend the author and wish I could have experienced it in her native language.

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