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Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia Hardcover – July 14, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 204 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Addicted to the "I-married-the-Mob" genre? Try this variation: smart women who marry Islamic fundamentalists. In 1973, Swiss-born Carmen fell in love with Yeslam bin Ladin, Osama's older brother; after a fairy-tale courtship, including a semester together at USC, the two married in Saudi Arabia. Alas, it wasn't long before the fantasy turned sinister. By Saudi Wahhabi custom, women are usually confined to the home. Activities like listening to music or reading books other than the Koran are either sinful or shameful. Only Carmen's young daughters, occasional international trips and her dear, understanding husband helped her cope. Then, things worsened. The 1979 Saudi mobilization to support Afghan Muslims against the Soviet invasion gave religious hard-liners like Osama more clout. Carmen's husband, now a successful Geneva businessman, reverted to a more orthodox lifestyle. Finally, in 1988, Yeslam divorced Carmen, but by bringing charges against her in Saudi Arabia, made certain she feared for her life—and her daughters' freedom—if she ever again entered an Islamic country. Beyond Carmen's terrible story hovers the larger, later tragedy of 9/11. Remember, Carmen warns, the bin Laden brothers have always supported each other, financially and socially. When Osama dies, he'll certainly be replaced. The gravity of the events Carmen writes of, her insider's perspective and her engaging style make this memoir a page-turner. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Married in 1974 to Osama Bin Laden's older brother, Carmen Bin Laden spent nine years futilely attempting to adjust to both the conservative, tight-knit Bin Laden clan and the repressive Saudi culture she was naively unprepared to face. Half-Swiss and half-Persian, Carmen was raised in relative freedom in Europe. Carried away by romantic notions of love and loyalty, she initially struggled to bridge the gap between her background as an independent Western woman and Middle Eastern expectations of female submission and subservience. Life among the huge Bin Laden clan was especially treacherous since they claimed myriad complex ties to the Saudi royal family. After the birth of three daughters, with her Western-educated husband becoming increasingly parochial and reactionary, she realized it was time to shuck the abaya that literally and figuratively concealed the woman she once was and desperately wanted to be again. Although the notorious Osama Bin Laden appears a few times in the book and his name is bandied about to hook readers, the real story is Carmen's bid for self-actualization within a society and a family that harshly resisted and rejected every minor challenge to traditional wisdom and authority. A riveting testament to courage and determination, this intimate memoir of one woman's spiritual reawakening and odyssey has best-seller written all over it. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (July 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446577081
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446577083
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,356,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. McEwan VINE VOICE on September 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting tale from the sister-in-law of Osama Bin Laden, who was married to one of his many brothers until the mid-1990s. While the author does comment on Osama from time to time, the real interest of the book is her insider's perspective on how the Saudi Arabs behave, the women as much as the men.

I found myself having a lot of compassion for people who live so bifurcated a life as the author says the Saudis do. She relates many instances of Saudi women and men behaving entirely differently when visiting Europe than they do in their daily lives in their own country. And she tells of some of her own behaviors that would seem entirely appropriate to most of us -- such as walking across the street to her sister-in-law's home -- that were scandalous for a woman to do in Saudi Arabia. Apparently, accepted practice was for a woman to be DRIVEN IN A CAR across the street, since to appear in public, even covered by a black abaya (aka chador, aka burkha), was immodest according to the Saudi's fanatically strict interpretation of Islam. These guys are so afraid of women that it would be laughable if their treatment of women weren't so criminal. And the older Saudi women are as bad as the men, forcing young women to adopt codes of behavior that reduce them to chattel property of the men in their families.

And the author doesn't shy away from pointing out the role that money plays in Saudi society. Like everywhere else in the world, when money talks, everybody walks, but the incredible wealth of the Bin Ladens sets them above the inhuman strictures of Saudi society so that they were -- and presumably still are --able to escape much of the oppression that afflicts those of more modest means. One wonders how the poor survive in that society.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book this morning, started it this afternoon and it is now early evening and I just finished it. I will be passing this book on to my three daughters. Carmen bin Ladin, half Swiss and half Persian, tells a love story of herself as an independent European woman falling in love with Yeslam bin Ladin, a half-brother to the infamous Osama.

Carmen is accustomed to living in Europe, mainly Switzerland, and she and her husband also spend time in California. Family matters take them back to Saudi Arabia where she is always an outsider and a foreigner. Life really begins to change in 1979 when Saudi Arabia begins to turn back to the strict rules of Wahabi Islam after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. Life for women and all females becomes even more oppressive, to put it mildly.

I once worked in a bank where one of the many Saudi Princes had his accounts while attending college in Calif. His free spending habits and the arrogance of his groupies was mind-boggling. Carmen bin Ladin tells of the exhorbitant wealth of the royals and some of the decadence.

The author's struggle to raise her three daughters as independent, educated thinkers and her crumbling marriage against the backdrop of the bin Ladin family is a wonderful read.
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Format: Hardcover
Have you ever wondered how on earth a Western woman could marry a man from a culture that is totally alien to hers? In Inside the Kingdom, Carmen Bin Laden tells the story of how she went from being a free spirited Swiss schoolgirl to the wife of one of the members of the Saudi Arabian Bin Laden clan. It was easy. She was young, he was charming, handsome, rich and seemingly easy going. They fell in love. She thought they were going to live in America and Europe. She was wrong.
Imagine living in a place where it's against the law for you to show your face in public. Imagine not being able to go shopping even for your own clothes or personal items. Imagine shocking your in-laws becuase you want to go for a walk.
One of the most vivid and sad scenes from the book describes how Carmen's husband had to make special arrangements in order for her to go to a grocery store to buy baby formula. While she rushed to the baby section the customers (all male) left the store and the staff turned their backs to her.
Carmen quickly discovered to her horror that listening to music was considered sinful, reading books was considered odd and having a thought in one's pretty head was seen as completely unnatural.
Eventually, the marriage soured and Carmen decided to leave Saudi for the sake of her daughters. The book will attract attention of course because of the author's infamous brother-in-law, Osama (he was apparently a foreboding figure even as a young man) but it's more than a tragi-comic look into the Bin Laden home. This book is a clear eyed look at Saudi life.
Carmen Bin Laden went to Saudi thinking that modernity would prevail and that in a few years Saudi women would have more rights. She was wrong then and things don't look any better now. Since Saudi Arabia is ostensibly an American ally taking an honest look at it makes sense. Can such a culture really change? Are we fools to it expect to?
Inside the Kingdom is a very good book.I'm glad I bought it.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner" I opened Carmen Bin Ladin's book with great anticipation. I was disappointed and yet I would recommend it. It was a quick easy read, eliciting no strong emotional or intellectual response. It is however the first glimpse of this life of a woman in "the Kingdom". It was interesting in the sense a tabloid can be interesting but at it's heart does not have the power to transform or enlighten the reader. I found her depiction of her life in Saudi much less tragic than I suspect it actually was. There is no depth of character in her main players. I would have loved to have more detail about her mohter and her grandmother in Iran. I wanted to know more about her own inner life and less about shopping and being wealthy.

I believe there is a rich life of emotions and loss and gain in all of her characters that we never really are allowed to see. I do not know why this book is so shallow. She seems an interesting and intelligent woman. I also ask what is the purpose of a memoir of this type. Kahaled Hosseini's life with his father in Afghanistan and later in America is deep with character struggle and growth. It is a social history as well as a personal one. The same is true of Azar Nafisi who manages to write literary criticism as well as social and political history that brought me closer to understanding what I believe Carmen Bin Laden tried to portray.

I hope Carmen Bin Laden turns her hand again to a relevent social and political discussion about the life of women in fundamentalist muslim communities in Saudi, or even the experience of her life in Europe. And I hope she finds more meat and less bone to offer.
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