‘Girls of Riyadh’ is a novel by a young Saudi woman Rajaa Alsanea. The novel created quite a noise here in the Middle East. For me it was a chance reading. A friend of mine gave it to me even as I had several lying at home, waiting to be read.
Well to start with, the novel may not be a great piece of literature but has its own strengths. The writer took a rather bold subject (more for the society she talks about) and handled it rather well. Her style of writing will especially appeal to the younger net savvy lot of which she herself is a part. The chapters are short and written in form of emails, something which makes for easier reading and also serve as effective bookmarks.
The story revolves around four girls who in a way represent a different section of the Saudi society. It’s about the dreams of young women in a conservative society, role of women in a male dominated Islamic country, and the freedom to choose your own destiny. Sadeem Al-Horaimli, Gamrah Al-Qusmanji, Lamees Jeddawi, and Mashael Al-Abdulrahman (or Michelle) are the seldom unheard voices of a deeply religious nation. The novel talks freely of the girls’ trials and tribulations in the matters of love and marriage. Their own friendship forms the core of the novel.
Alsanea surely has stirred up the hornest’s nest with her view of the Saudi society, no wonder the book was promptly banned in the country. But she has done some service to her kind with this effort. This is what she wants her readers to see, “…little by little some of these women (in Saudi Arabia) are beginning to carve out their own way – not the Western way, but one that keeps what is good about the values of our religion and culture, while allowing for reform.” And hers is a voice of reason too!
On a rather different note, the novel for some reason reminded me of Chetan Bhagat’s style. Although he is a far better writer.
Being a first time effort from a 25 years old author, “Girls of Riyadh” is worth a read. I especially liked the chapter dealing with the classification of human populations based on different factors. As for it being a bestseller in the Middle East, it’s more to do with the subject.