The first time I heard about the controversial Saudi novel Banat Al Riyadh (The girls of Riyadh) by female Saudi writer Raja Al Sanea was when I read about it in the Arab blogosphere. If my memory serves me right, I think I heard about it first on Saudi Jeans blog. So when I was in Jordan I made sure to visit Prime Mega store at Mecca Mall to get my hands on a copy of the book to see what the fuss was all about.
I finished reading it on the plane from Amman to Chicago and I have to admit it was an amusing read, although not as controversial as I expected. The author sheds light on the lives of four young upper-class Saudi women who are desperately trying to find the loves of their lives. In their pursuit, the women face a plethora of obstacles, ranging from their own insecurities to their ultra-conservative society’s strict rules.
The writing is whimsical and very amusing at times. The only disappointing part for me was that I was expecting the novel to be more daring, revealing the secret lives of the female half of Saudi society. After all, the novel was banned in Saudi Arabia. But then again, many things get banned in Saudi Arabia.
The novel reads pretty rapidly, though I found it difficult at times to understand the Saudi dialect. All in all, the book is definitely worth your time. For someone unaware of the lives of Saudi women, I found this book entertaining, pretty enlightening and, at times, daring. Here’s an interview with the author in English. And here is what some other bloggers said about the novel: Anolita, Badr and Ohoud (in Arabic).