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Girls of Riyadh: A Novel Hardcover – July 5, 2007

103 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Four close girlfriends from upper-class Saudi families attend university and medical school in Riyadh and in Chicago and San Francisco. They talk in chat rooms, IM on their mobiles to their boyfriends and each other. But even with all the hip technology, they cannot escape deep-seated oppressive traditions after they return to Riyadh. Sadeem's fiancé dumps her after she has sex with him. Gamrah's husband divorces her after she discovers he is having an affair. Michelle and Faisal adore each other, but he gives her up when his family says so. The Religious Police arrest one couple in a coffee bar. But most families don't need official help to interfere in women's lives. Translated from the Arabic, this debut novel was immediately banned in Saudi Arabia. The 25-year-old Saudi writer (now studying in Chicago but planning to return home) tells it from the inside, complete with the contradictions and betrayals that define daily lfe. The Sex and the City–type drama is fast, wry, witty, and anguished. And so are the politics: "He appreciates her independence. But can't find his." Rochman, Hazel

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (July 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201219
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Elisa Pasquali on September 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
What I found most interesting about this book was not only the portrayal of societal expectations (and their contradictions!) of women in Saudi society, but how true these expectations are, even in more "western" countries, including the US.

I grew up in Mexico, and many of the attitudes of conservative older women as well as supposedly "liberated" men mirror those depicted in this book.

And the descriptions of "weak" men, who marry uneducated, unremarkable women in spite of loving and admiring stronger, educated women, the hypocrisy in this, the feminization of men who become subservient themselves to their families and societal expectations of what a "real man" should be, which in reality has NOTHING to do with what really determines a real man, are things I observed even while dating many American (US born and US raised) men.

I found it wonderful, how what Alsanea observes about Saudi men, is applicable even to the contemporary Western, supposedly "modernized" man.

Her story is not the story of "girls of Riyadh", but the story of any girl, in any country.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By R. Swaney on July 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I picked up the Girls of Riyadh after hearing about the uproar it caused in Saudi Arabia and for the fact that few pop-fiction books from the Arab world seem to show up in English. It's the story of four women of the "velvet" class of Saudi Arabia and their exploits of marriage, romance, and relationships in their early 20s. The story is narrated as if it occurred on a yahoo group/list serv and provides an interesting look into the secular upper class. It's an interesting read and despite the cultural look the book has a lot of fluff to it. It's an easy and fun read but differs little from young adult fiction in the U.S. (excepting the age group of the women involved). If you're looking for a light "beach read" go for it.
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91 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Rana on September 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'm a Saudi girl, I live in Riyadh and I was really eager to read this book but when I read it I was disappointed in away ..I have to admit it that the book was fun to read but it doesn't relate to Saudi girls that much, a lot of facts that have been mentioned in the book are in someway shocking to even imagine it happening in Saudi Arabia ...
The author is talented but she didn't look at the big picture.This book reflects Saudi girls and what she wrote is 1% of Saudi girls .....
others will read this book and think this is what Saudi girls are ,and what they are facing which is not true ...
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Sahra Badou on August 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is really a fun book to read. If you are not familiar with the Saudi culture, which differs tremendously from other Arab cultures, this book will give you a glimpse of it. Girls in Saudi Arabia are brought up with different principles from girls in other countries of the world. For example, virginity must be guarded at all cost, not necessary because the girl feels it is her moral and religious duty to do so, but because no man would marry her if she wasn't a least this is the theory.

I first heard of the stories, which were transmitted through emails at the time, through friends when I used to work in Riyadh. At the time, it was the gossip of Riyadh, but I never was interested in gossip, so I paid no attention. I never chatted on the internet in the first place, except a few times on AOL with close friends, and I viewed this practice as a total waste of time. I couldn't understand the kick people got out of speaking to complete strangers whom they were unlikely to ever meet, and who were probably lying through their teeth. How would one really know whether the person online is male or female, or a hermaphrodite for that matter? Is the person lying about his or her age, looks, education, nationality etc...? My conclusion was that chatting was a complete waste of time. It was better to socialize with people in the physical world.

I admit! I was wrong! Totally wrong! Having read this book, I now understand the world of chatting better. Saudi Arabia is a society where women and men are forbidden to mix. Even in restaurants, there are sections just for single men and others for families only. Movie theatres are forbidden because of the fear of having both males and females, God forbid, in the dark!!!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Over half a century ago Mary McCarthy wrote The Group a perceptive and satirical novel on the lives of eight graduates from Vassar. The novel was widely acclaimed, in part for discussing numerous issues that had hitherto been taboo relating to the lives of upper class American women. Ms. McCarthy was applauded for the honesty and realism of her portraits, which covered a spectrum of aspirations, hopes, and in smaller measures, fulfillments.

Ms. Al Sanea's book, "The Girls of Riyadh" is a similar chronicle of the lives of four upper class women in Saudi Arabia. Her style is updated from Ms. McCarthy's time, done in an e-mail format, which can be irritating, glib, or innovative, depending on your perspective. But the essential element is there: an honest, realistic examination of the lives of these women, and the adaptations to cultural norms that they make or defy. And in the end, about the same percentage of the women, American and Saudi, find fulfillment and happiness.

Ms. Sanea makes numerous observations on Saudi society. For example: "Our Saudi society resembles a fruit cocktail of social classes in which no class mixes with another unless absolutely necessary, and then only with the help of a blender!" With this, as well as other comments, I found myself wondering how unique this is to Saudi society. America has far greater egalitarian pretenses, but socially is it not at least as stratified?

There is a small cottage industry in the West which depicts the people of Saudi Arabia as bizarre, three standard deviations outside human norms. Ms Al Sanea's book is a wonderful, refreshing antidote to this standard Western view.
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