A bold new voice from Saudi Arabia spins a fascinating tale of four young women attempting to navigate the narrow straits between love, desire, fulfillment, and Islamic tradition
In her debut novel Rajaa Alsanea reveals the social, romantic, and sexual tribulations of four young women from the elite classes of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Originally released in Arabic in 2005, it was immediately banned in Saudi Arabia because of the controversial and inflammatory content, while black-market copies of the novel were widely circulated. The daring originality of Girls of Riyadh continues to create a firestorm all over the Arab world, and the excitement has spread far beyond the Middle East-to date, rights to this novel have already been sold in eleven countries.
The novel unfolds as every week after Friday prayers, the anonymous narrator sends an e-mail to the female subscribers of her online chat group. In fifty such e-mails over the course of a year, we witness the tragicomic reality of four university students-Qamra, Michelle, Sadim, and Lamis-negotiating their love lives, their professional success, and their rebellions, large and small, against their cultural traditions. The world these women inhabit is a modern one that contains “Sex and the City,” dating, and sneaking out of their parents’ houses, and this affluent, contemporary existence causes the girls to collide endlessly with the ancient customs of their society. The never-ending cultural conflicts underscore the tumult of being an educated modern woman growing up in the twenty-first century amid a culture firmly rooted in an ancient way of life.
While this novel offers a distinctly Arab voice, it also represents the mongrel culture and language of a globalized world, reflecting the way in which the Arab world is being changed by new economic and political realities. Riyadh is the larger setting of the novel, but the characters travel all over the world shedding traditional garb as they literally and figuratively cross over into Western society. These women understand the Western worldview and experiment with reconciling pieces of it with their own. But this groundbreaking novel might be the very first that opens up their world to us-their culture, their struggles, their frustrations, their hopes, and their beliefs. With Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea gives us a rare and unforgettable insight into the complicated lives of these young Saudi women whose amazing stories are unfolding in a culture so very different from our own.