Friday, March 2, 2012

"Girls of Riyadh"

The novel "Girls of Riyadh" (Penguin, 2007), by Rajaa Alsanea, was banned in Saudi Arabia when it was published in Arabic in 2005, but apparently still managed to be read by many there. It was then translated (by the author and Marilyn Booth) into English, providing the English-speaking world with a window into the lives of young women in Saudi Arabia. It tells the story of four young women in Riyadh, their close friendship with each other, their educations and careers and families, their travels abroad, and -- most of all -- their love lives. Although these young women, along with most young women in S.A., are very limited in how much they are permitted to see and speak with young men, they find ways to do so, both in person and -- especially -- by telephone; long romances are sometimes conducted almost entirely by telephone. Of course this is fiction, but its author is a young Saudi woman herself, living in the United States at the time of publication, and I assume it is at least somewhat accurate in describing at least a certain subgroup of women and their lives. It reminds us of how young women in much of the world, even young women from the most affluent families, have far less freedom and far fewer opportunities than young men do. It also reminds us of all the ways young people find to connect and to love, despite society's restrictions. One thing I was glad to see was that at least some of these young women had access to higher education -- both in S.A. and abroad -- and good careers. I have taught Saudi women at my university, and have been very impressed with their motivation, hard work, maturity, and ambition. "The Girls of Riyadh" is not terribly well written, and perhaps sensationalizes young women's lives somewhat, but it was interesting for me to read, as it seemed to open the curtain a bit on the behind-the-scenes lives of at least some young women whose lives we in the West generally don't learn much about.

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