Synopses & Reviews
A bold new voice from Saudi Arabia spins a fascinating tale of four young women attempting to navigate the narrow straits between love, desire, fulfillment, and Islamic tradition.
In her debut novel Rajaa Alsanea reveals the social, romantic, and sexual tribulations of four young women from the elite classes of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Originally released in Arabic in 2005, it was immediately banned in Saudi Arabia because of the controversial and inflammatory content, while black-market copies of the novel were widely circulated. The daring originality of Girls of Riyadh continues to create a firestorm all over the Arab world, and the excitement has spread far beyond the Middle East to date, rights to this novel have already been sold in eleven countries.
The novel unfolds as every week after Friday prayers, the anonymous narrator sends an e-mail to the female subscribers of her online chat group. In fifty such e-mails over the course of a year, we witness the tragicomic reality of four university students Qamra, Michelle, Sadim, and Lamis negotiating their love lives, their professional success, and their rebellions, large and small, against their cultural traditions. The world these women inhabit is a modern one that contains Sex and the City, dating, and sneaking out of their parents' houses, and this affluent, contemporary existence causes the girls to collide endlessly with the ancient customs of their society.
The never-ending cultural conflicts underscore the tumult of being an educated modern woman growing up in the twenty-first century amid a culture firmly rooted in an ancient way of life. While this novel offers a distinctly Arab voice, it also represents the mongrel culture and language of a globalized world, reflecting the way in which the Arab world is being changed by new economic and political realities. Riyadh is the larger setting of the novel, but the characters travel all over the world shedding traditional garb as they literally and figuratively cross over into Western society. These women understand the Western worldview and experiment with reconciling pieces of it with their own. But this groundbreaking novel might be the very first that opens up their world to us-their culture, their struggles, their frustrations, their hopes, and their beliefs.
With Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea gives us a rare and unforgettable insight into the complicated lives of these young Saudi women whose amazing stories are unfolding in a culture so very different from our own.
"Four upper-class Saudi Arabian women negotiate the clash between tradition and the encroaching West in this debut novel by 25-year-old Saudi Alsanea. Though timid by American chick lit standards, it was banned in Saudi Arabia for its scandalous portrayal of secular life. Framed as a series of e-mails sent to the e-subscribers of an Internet group, the story follows an unnamed narrator who recounts the misadventures of her best friends, Gamrah, Lamees, Michelle and Sadeem-all fashionable, educated, wealthy 20-somethings looking for true love. Their world is dominated by prayer, family loyalty and physical modesty, but the voracious consumption of luxury goods (designer name dropping is muted but present) and yearnings for female empowerment are also part of the package. Lines like 'the talk was as soft as the granules in my daily facial soap' or 'Sadeem was feeling so sad that her chest was constricted in sorrow' appear with woeful frequency, and the details about the roles of technology, beauty and Western pop culture in the lives of contemporary Saudi women aren't revelatory. Readers looking for quality Arabic fiction have much better options." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[The] work of a brave, intelligent young woman. One of those rare books with the power to shake up an entrenched society." Los Angeles Times
"A rare glimpse into ordinary life for young women in Saudi Arabia." San Francisco Chronicle
"Engaging, enlightening, enjoyable." Seattle Times
"[M]ovingly illustrates the shackled lives of young, lovelorn women in Saudi Arabia." St. Petersburg Times
When Rajaa Alsanea boldly chose to open up the hidden world of Saudi womentheir private lives and their conflicts with the traditions of their cultureshe caused a sensation across the Arab world. Now in English, Alsaneas tale of the personal struggles of four young upper-class women offers Westerners an unprecedented glimpse into a society often veiled from view. Living in restrictive Riyadh but traveling all over the globe, these modern Saudi women literally and figuratively shed traditional garb as they search for love, fulfillment, and their place somewhere in between Western society and their Islamic home.
About the Author
Rajaa Alsanea grew up in Riyadh, the daughter of a family of doctors. She intends to return to Saudi Arabia after attaining a degree in Endodontics. Two weeks after the release of Girls of Riyadh in Arabic, the book became a #1 bestseller. Rajaa is twenty-six years- old, and this is her first novel.