Saturday, January 13, 2007

Rajaa al-Sanei's "The Girls of Riyadh: a Novel"

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Rajaa al-Sanei's new book, The Girls of Riyadh: A Novel, tells the story of the lives of four upperclass girlfriends in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The novel "speaks openly of sex, lesbianism and young women's desire to lead freer lives" [BBC].

Author Rajaa al-Sanei is a 24-year-old woman dentist from Saudi Arabia. Her work was legally published in that country, even though it infuriated religious conservatives.

Surprisingly, the Minister of Labour Dr. Ghazi al Gosaibi, endorsed the novel right on the cover:

“This work is worthy of being read. The novelist is very promising...Rajaa al Sanea embarked on a great adventure that reveals the exciting world of young women in Riyadh...When the curtain is removed, the scene is exposed to us with all its funny and sad elements, with all the details unknown to those outside this enchanted world.” ” [Asharq Al Aswat].

In one episode, two of the novel's heroines dress up as young men so that they can go out in society. Their first stop is a famous coffeeshop. Boys stand in the street and hold up signs with their cell-phone numbers so that passing cars with girls in them can write down their numbers.

The novel is written as a series of e-mails from the narrator's internet group to her subscribers, mixes classical and colloquial Arabic, and uses the informal writing style typical of Internet forums. Here is a review of the novel in Asharq Al-Awsat.

The BBC's Heba Saleh has an interesting review of the book and observes:

Conservatives say the novel smears Saudi society. But the Minister of Culture, Iyad Madani, says it reflects the way many young people in the Kingdom actually live.

"It connected with the new generation because it was based on how our young people use their mobile phones to create relationships."

The comments that follow the BBC article are also interesting.
One woman wrote, "Rajaa is great, i have so much respect for her, she told the truth in a very loving manner to her country."

I think it is easier for people to be more accepting of social change when difficult truths are told in a loving manner and with some humor. I am very excited about reading this new book from Saudi Arabia.

The story is summarized on this website:

An unknown girl in her early twenties decides to narrate the story of her friends. She is like a modern Scheherazade that narrates these stories every weekend. Her motivation is to revenge the tyranny of life and the society against her friends. Each chapter in the novel starts with a piece of poetry, a verse from the Quran, or lyrics from a famous song that captured the idea of the chapter.

The narrator sends e-mails from her internet group to the subscribers. Those e-mails as the narrator forecasts in the novel stir the media especially popular newspapers in Saudi like Al-Riyadh, Al-Watan and Al-Jazeerah...[continue]


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