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

4 out of 5 stars 109 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 (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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 virgin...at 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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Format: Hardcover
"Girls of Riyadh" is a fun, easy read that gives you a glimpse into the world of four Saudi girls. I think the takeaway from this novel is that girls are girls anywhere--be they Saudi or American, Muslim or Christian. We all long for love and happiness. We all go through heartbreak. We all have societal conventions and expectations to uphold, even those of us in the West. And don't worry, there's a happy ending for many of the girls.

Buy this book for a fun summer read which just might humanize Saudi and Muslim girls in your eyes just a bit. Which isn't a bad thing, BTW. ;)
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Format: Hardcover
It was Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own who made the observation that writing untainted by the bitterness and anger that accompanies unfair circumstances is the best way to write pure and unthwarted literature--thus best revealing that same circumstance. This was in reference to the enormous success of female authors such as Jane Austen and Aphra Behn because there is no detectable resentment in their writing as a result of the oppression they experienced as female writers during their lifetimes.
On the same token, Rajaa Al-Sanea recounts the lives of these four Saudi girls of the upper class with similar simplicity, so that the reader is able to enjoy the narrative. On the one hand, most reviewers seem appalled by the condition of Saudi women despite the fact that women do not have equal rights in most of their own countries. Refreshingly, Dr. Al-Sanea's focus is not bemoaning women's status, but narrates from a twice-removed perspective: through the anonymous narrator who recounts the feelings of her protagonists. And in this way, the reader is struck by the constraints placed upon these women.
Al-Sanea has been criticized for representing only a small percentage of Saudi women since her characters are of the upper class, but it should be noted that this is an accurate representation of their lives and that by writing about the more privileged and their grievances, Al-Sanea has paved the way for more literature--perhaps by herself!--to be written about the condition of Saudi women in other classes, in Bedouin tribes, in Buraydah, Jeddah, Ha'il and a whole host of situations and locations.
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