on June 6, 2002
As an American Muslim woman who once lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I became overwhelmed by Sultana's compelling account. As a Muslim, I appreciated her explicit reminder that the transgressions of the Saudi men depicted in the work did not represent Islam. Rather, their misinterpretation of the Quran and Haddith led them to oppress the women of their country, not their true and accurate following of our religion. As one who has worn the abaaya and the veil, and who has met countless women trapped in polygamy in Saudi Arabia and in the United States, I can relate to her experience. Yet, as I was fortunate to be an American in Saudi Arabia, I often did not have to deal firsthand with the cultural oppression of Saudi men; however, I feel that her plight and those of our Muslim sisters is my own. Although Sultana comes from the wealthiest of Saudi families, she accurately and adequately represents the lives of most Saudi women, regardless of socioeconomic status. Her story is real and true; she did not exaggerate or stretch the truth. This work deservedly holds a position as one of the top 500 books for and about women, and should be read by everyone.
on May 6, 2001
In the course of the true life stories found in the book Princess, by Jean P. Sasson, the reader becomes enveloped in the terrible and heart-wrenching lifestyles of middle-eastern women. Through the course of the narrative, though horrifying stories are related in a truly eye-opening manner, the reader discovers a true slice of Princess Sultana's imaginative and vivacious personality, and weeps as it slowly becomes lost in the process of womanhood in Saudi Arabia. "The history of our women is buried behind the black veil of secrecy. Neither our births or deaths are made official in any public record. The common emotion expressed at the birth of a female is either sorrow or shame." These few sentences, which bring about the whole theme of the non-entity of women, lead us to much more shocking crimes against women which, in that society, are not considered to be crimes whatsoever. The stories of Nadia, who was drowned in the family pool by her father as a way of "protecting her honor", her sister Sara, who attempted suicide after being sold as a wife to a sick and sexually brutal elderly man, and a brave Filipino maid named Madeline, who was raped nightly by all the male members of the family she served under, illustrate how Jean Sasson was able to intertwine other supporting character's stories with the life of Princess Sultana effectively and believably. Some stories, which show how these incredibly courageous women, can survive in this kind of life, bring the reader to cry and cheer simultaneously. Others, which, sadly, lack the happy ending we could hope for, are gut-wrenching due to the fact that they are horribly true. Behind the black veil of the Muslim women lie incredibly diverse personalities, characters, and spirits, which come alive to us through the voice of Sultana. I admired how the life of one woman, who lived a lifestyle vastly different from those of her readers, could showcase such a passion for life that I was able to relate to her and her stories. While listening to her descriptions of daily crimes against others like her and her description of her feelings of powerlessness, causes the reader to have feelings of injustice stir within them. During the episode where Sultana finally uses her ingenuity to it's potential and manages to flee her country and abusive husband, you are able to applaud her efforts and cheer her on. Overall, this book becomes a touching experience for most, if not all, who read it. Through the coldheartedness of males such as Ali, her brother, and her father, it is a miracle that Sultana manages to respect members of the male race when it is entirely obvious that they have little, if any, respect for her. "I waited for my destiny to unfold, a child as helpless as an insect trapped in a wicked web not of it's own making." Although this statement was Sultana's, it translates the general feeling of oppression hidden behind the black veil in the middle east. Indeed, these words could have been spoken by nearly every female character in the book, because they all, at one point in time, are overcome with the feeling of helplessness and realize that there is not one person who can deliver them from whatever circumstance they are in, because they are all suppressed by the male race. The men are nearly all, with the exception of King Faisal, portrayed as the iron fist in the velvet glove. Their views of women, and how they make their opinions clear, is extraordinarily chilling and saddening. The dignity, the souls, and occasionally, the lives of these women are lost throughout the course of the book. The issues that are addressed, such as honor killings, sexual slavery, arranged marriages, and female genital mutilation, all bring to mind the horrors that still exist today. In conclusion, although this is first of all a must-read for anyone with an interest in human rights and women's rights, I would strongly recommend it to anyone. It touches the heart and stirs the soul so that the reader cannot help but be moved by the stories of these women. Hopefully, with this book's publication, the fact that Sultana risked her life to allow her story to be heard will not have gone in vain.
on February 8, 2000
I am an unbiased reader, yet one with first-hand knowledge of social customs of Saudi Arabia. I lived for over 8 years in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and worked as a nurse in the King Faisal Spec Hosp and Research Ctr. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the Kingdom and the manner of life for women in that country is fully aware that the stories told in Princess is the sad reality of life for women in that country. The only people who have a hard time believing Jean Sasson are people who have never lived in Saudi or possibly jealous people who simply want to attack a good book. As a nurse, I personally cared for Saudi women at the hospital who had endured horrible acts of cruelty from their Saudi husbands. I can say with certainty that many of the stories told by Jean Sasson are duplicated many times over in the daily lives of women in that country. I took care of a 13year old girl, who was suicidal because she was being forced to marry a very old man in his late 60's. She considered herself bright, and she was, and wanted to be educated and have some choice later in life who she was to marry, but this was her parents decision. They would either give drug therapy or electrical shock in some cases to make the women more compliant! I was the nurse in charge when a Saudi princess was locked away in a private room in the hospital. She had been abducted from the West by her own government and was forced to return to the Kingdom. The look on that poor woman's face when she discovered she had been drugged by her own American doctor and brought back into the country on a private jet, I will never forget! (The American doctor and his wife had accompanied the Saudi woman, and they went shopping daily, returning to the hospital with priceless jewelry that had been their payment for the duplicity. It is not only Saudis that can be unfeeling when it comes to women!) To tell the truth, there were so many unbelievable horror stories, that I personally witnessed in that hospital, that I could write a similar book myself! I must say, that I love the way Jean tells the story. It is wonderfully readable and the stories remain with the reader forever. I recommend the book to all my friends and thus far, to a person, everyone has read the book straight through. If you want the real truth of Saudi Arabia and the lives of the women who live there, then I recommend this book. Signed "A nursing professional who worked for many years at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Reasearch Centre"
This an easy to read absolutely riveting account of the lives of upper class Saudi women, written by a member of the royal family. By way of background, the "Princess" of the title is a direct descendant of the founder of the current Saudi monarchy, and has told her story at great personal risk, according to the author. Even taking into account that there are several hundred princes and princesses who claim to be direct descendants, I found it hard to understand how this book, which is actually the first of three, could have been published without its source being discovered, given the unbelievably tight constraints the society places on the behavior of women. Be that as it may, the lives of these women are lived in gilded cages, which is fine if you can totally suppress your personality and intelligence and observe the rules. The ones who can't suffer consequences that I find hard to believe exist in the modern world.
On the surface, life seems pleasant enough--the royal family lives in luxury that is unimaginable even by American standards--once a young couple is married, the building of several palaces seems a matter of course. When the Princess goes on her honeymoon, her new husband buys all the seats in first class so they can have privacy. Yet life is circumscribed severely--education is often withheld from women; husbands are chosen for a girl at a very young age in order to cement family or business alliances, with no regard for suitability in terms of age or personality. Abuse of women in marriage is common. From childhood, the wishes of men are accomodated in all things--a son can take the possessions of his sister without question. Porsches and Rolexes for male teenagers are common.
The Princess' brother seems to be an especially despicable example of moral decay resulting from having every wish fulfilled--he rapes young girls, uses underage prostitutes, hits women, and is cruel even to loyal servants. Yet a woman who breaks the rules, particularly in regard to sexual matters, pays a hefty price. Two incidents in particular stand out--in one, a father drowns his only and much beloved daughter in the family swimming pool for engaging in some admittedly rather wild sexual behavior with non-Saudi men. In another case, a young woman is locked into solitary confinement for the rest of her life for falling in love while abroad studying. At last report she was alive but insane.
Having read this most horrible story I was eager to learn more, as I find it hard to believe any civilized nation would permit the outright murder of women by family members, solely based upon how the head of the family feels about the transgression in question. Interestingly, Amnesty International's latest report on the treatment of women states that it is hard to get direct evidence of events like this due to their inability to talk to Saudi women themselves, and most of the report deals with the mistreatment of non-Saudi workers.
This book left me disturbed and uneasy particularly as these "allies" have become very important to the U.S. in recent weeks. I worry that the book is true, and I worry about how inflammatory it and others like it can be in the current environment. Read "A Street in Marrakesh" for a much less dismal look at life in Morocco for poorer women. Read as much as you can, written from different viewpoints. And try to keep an open mind.
on April 6, 2001
First of all, most of the negative reviews seem to be written by non-Saudi Arabs who fear that whoever reads this book will form a negative impression about the entire Arab world. As an American woman who read the book, I take it as an inside look into the Saudi world, not necessarily the entire Arab world. Also, even though an American put this story to paper, it was told by a Saudi woman.
More importantly, many of the reviews seemed to compare Sultana's family to a disturbed western family. It is true that many American families struggle with domestic violence and that American society struggles with implementing and enforcing human rights within our own country. BUT, the reason these shortcomings are so well-known is that we expose these problems in our country. There are many TV shows, news articles and private organizations that attempt to tell of human-rights abuses within our country. There are laws against these abuses and there are activists who are not afraid of being jailed when challenging government and society to address these problems. Indeed, journalists jump at the opportunity to expose injustices in our country.
The revealing thing about "Princess" is not that there are cruel people in the world, but that those who are abused cannot rely on their government for protection. I cannot say that Saudi men are generally unkind from reading this book. I simply don't know. But, what I can say is that women have very little legal protection. A woman cannot leave the country without her husband's or father's permission. Women can't drive. It's things like this that lead many westerners to believe that women are held in lower regard than men. Also, without an open media in Saudi Arabia and with a society in which domestic violence is seen as a strictly private matter, westerners are left to believe the few nuggets of information we receive from books like "Princess."
on February 16, 2000
Having lived in Saudi Arabia for five years, I applaud Ms. Sasson for having written about the position of women in that society. In my work, I had contact with Saudis - both men and women - together and separately. There are few western women there and even fewer that have contact with Saudi women and families. This is the only explanation I can give for the reviewers that claim to `know better'. I can even understand some Saudi women denying the truth of this story to avoid being ashamed of their culture. In Saudi Arabia women have very little freedom and are often abused. Princess is well written and very enlightening for Westerners. I have recommended the book to friends, who always express disbelief. This book is sad, scary, and unbelievable. But it surely is the true story of one woman's life and should be read by one and all. The world needs to know!
Islam has nothing to do with the Saudi's treatment of women. This is cultural, not religious, practice. The story of Sultana's children continue to bring the horror of this system into focus for the rest of the world. I hope there will be more! Bravo, Ms. Sasson!
on October 24, 1998
From the other comments, it's obvious that people are getting a VERY warped image of Muslim women and Muslim countries from this sensationalized book. Here are some facts that people who read these reviews, and the book, should know. It IS true that Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries in the world, but it is NOT true that other Muslim countries are as repressive. As an Iranian woman, I can authoritively testify that Iran is in no way as anywhere near as repressive as Saudi Arabia, no matter what you hear in the media. Women there not only can drive and vote, but are members of parliament, have positions of authority over men, are cabinet members, business owners, and even police officers. They also exercise considerable control in all family matters inside homes. Before the revolution of 1979, wearing the veil (or headscarf in Iran) had become somewhat rare, and I'm certain that the majority wait for the day that they can rip them off once again. The authorities are already becoming more relaxed, hair is creaping out, and makeup is common. As for what a few reviewers mentioned regarding middle eastern men viewing western women as whores, this is definately not true for Iranians. There were many many western women married to Iranian men in Iran, especially before the revolution, and were happy (and free) there.
I mention all these points to make it clear that a religion is not the repressive factor, it's the culture of a nation; Saudi obviously being an extreme. Even other Arabic countries don't share the extreme Saudi culture.. There is an active nightlife scene in Egypt and Lebanon, and even Iraq..and girls participate too, unveiled!
Lumping all "Middle Easterners" together in one boat is a grave mistake, the various nations do NOT share the same cultures and backgrounds.
Do we all look to the Amish to understand Christian life? This book is the equivalent.
I'm an educated person, and I am very much aware of the basic freedoms that women in Saudi Arabia are lacking. However, reading "Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia" sheds a whole new light on the horrific realities of life for women in this god-forsaken country.
This book is the real story of Princess Sultana, a member of Saudi Arabia's royal family. The name Sultana is an alias: If anyone in her family learned her true identity, she and her children would face deadly consequences. Instead, Sultana tells her story with the help of author Jean Sasson, a writer who befriended the princess while living and working in Saudi Arabia.
"Princess" details Sultana's upbringing in a home where the father had absolutely no regard for any of his daughters and instead catered only to the desires of his wretched son, Ali. Sultana was tormented by her older brother, and she was always determined to figure out a way to build a better life for herself and attain more rights than women are generally allowed in her country.
In Saudi Arabia, women are forced to wear black veils that cover their entire face. They can't drive cars, live independently, or make any decisions for themselves. Women are not valued as individuals, and in many cases Arabian men view women solely as their own sexual outlets. It's common for women and young girls to be raped by just about anyone. Women can even be stoned to death for their so-called "lewd" behavior, but of course men are never punished for their brutal crimes.
Sultana gives many examples of women she has known who met horrible fates, and she describes her own frustrations of being ruled by her father, brother, and eventually her husband. Because Sultana is a member of the royal family, she has a much better life than most women do in Saudi Arabia, and that's a terrifying thought. Sultana also has a strong, feisty spirit, but even her unflinching determination to change things has little effect on the events that unravel around her.
"Princess" is a wonderful book, but it's also extremely sad because it paints such a vivid picture of the horrors that Arabian women endure on a daily basis. It's almost impossible for me to fathom that a country in our modern world still adheres to these archaic practices, but it's true. Now that I've read this book, I'm anxious to learn more about the current state of affairs in Saudi Arabia: Have things improved even the slightest bit in the past 17 years? I'm almost afraid to find out.
on June 2, 2002
After living most of my life in the Middle East I already knew much of the culture that is explained in this book. Arabic friends of mine had gone through circumcision, were married to men they hadn't met before their wedding day and women whose relationship with their father had been indifferent. Another English friend was torn apart when her Arabic husband married another woman.
I was very fortunate that some people had opened up to me because mostly, these scandals would go on behind the closed door. Where I lived, it was very Westernised and so not nearly as bad as the situation of Saudi Arabia but still beneath the surface there were traces of the male dominance that will forever be apart of that way of life.
I am telling you this so that will see that much of this book is truly based on fact, even through it seems to horrible to believe. The author has not tried to exaggerate her life in order to make her story more readable. You just have to live in a muslim country to know that these things do go on. But the governments of the countries do nothing about it because thay beleive that the koran says that it is within the rights of a man to dicipline his wife/daughter, even if it means killing her to wash away the shame she has put onto the family. A daughter or a wife is a posession.
Sultana, the subject of the novel, is truly a symbol of feminine courage and endurance through the struggles women face in the western world every day, and through the telling of her story has opened up this secret life without tarnishing the muslim religion, only the men who try to interpret it to suit themselves.
Read this book. Whilst being simply written, it tells of exreamely complicated issues that, thankfully, I will never experience. You will not be able to put it down and even after you finish it you will think of it. If you like this book, the sequel "Daughters of Arabia" is also worth reading and similarly "Not Without My Daughter" by Betty Mahmoody.
on September 18, 2000
Book Review: The Princess -"Jean Sasson"
An excellent book, that really hits on what's missing in the media.....The truth This is a Biography of an anonymous Saudi Arabian Princess - who has risked her life to tell the tale of life behind the veil.... Sultana leaves little to the imagination when describing the male domination of her society and the harsh life style this leads to - particularly among the fanatically religious - to whom child brides (to men as old as their grandfathers), are little more than a way of life - and the killing of a woman who has disobeyed you is ignored and swept under the carpet If you think that your life is hard - read this and think yourself lucky to be alive in this world of a rat race.... Sultana is a wealthy Princess born into the wealth of oil that her country have stumbled upon - She has everything materialistic that she could hope for, or, even imagine - Yet she is still distraught with her social strata - which carries with it a lifestyle of abuse to human rights Men are all that matter in this culture and they make the rules to appease their desires - which are mainly sexual and lead to the abuse of teenage and even child harems - the buying of children for sex from poorer countries such as Egypt ..... These are only a few of the harsh revelations uncovered Sultana is most fortunate to have married a loving and caring man . This along with the forced marriage of her niece to a cruel and depraved older man, and her discovery of the harem of sex slaves kept by a cousin, makes her more determined than ever to fight the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia for herself, her sisters and her daughters.....
This book is not a one off as most Biographies are - but its series emphasises the on going troubles of the country (Others in the series "Desert Royal" and "Daughters of Arabia") Once you read the first of the series you are hooked into Sassons's empathetic style This is a book of life - from the coming of age to marriage and to motherhood - all set against the highly contrasted lifestyle of a Saudi Princess - with the lavish materialistic backdrop of pure elegance and the harsh lifestyle that women must constantly battle against or surrender to and loose all freedom. Although women will find this easier to relate to than men - that is not to say that it is a female only book - far from it - it is a factual book that would appeal to all that have an interest in our world and its societies and the oppression of human rights......