[The] work of a brave, intelligent young woman. One of those rare books with the power to shake up an entrenched society.
Engaging, enlightening, enjoyable.
A taboo-breaking novel.
A rare glimpse into ordinary life for young women in Saudi Arabia.
Four upper-class Saudi Arabian women negotiate the clash between tradition and the encroaching West in this debut novel by 25-year-old Saudi Alsanea. Though timid by American chick lit standards, it was banned in Saudi Arabia for its scandalous portrayal of secular life. Framed as a series of e-mails sent to the e-subscribers of an Internet group, the story follows an unnamed narrator who recounts the misadventures of her best friends, Gamrah, Lamees, Michelle and Sadeem-all fashionable, educated, wealthy 20-somethings looking for true love. Their world is dominated by prayer, family loyalty and physical modesty, but the voracious consumption of luxury goods (designer name dropping is muted but present) and yearnings for female empowerment are also part of the package. Lines like "the talk was as soft as the granules in my daily facial soap" or "Sadeem was feeling so sad that her chest was constricted in sorrow" appear with woeful frequency, and the details about the roles of technology, beauty and Western pop culture in the lives of contemporary Saudi women aren't revelatory. Readers looking for quality Arabic fiction have much better options. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
While studying endodontics in Chicago, Saudi Arabian Alsanea published a first novel in Arabic about four very contemporary young Saudi women resisting -society's efforts to contain them. It was banned forthwith in her homeland and has since been sold to 11 countries. With a seven-city tour. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Alsanea's debut, which sparked controversy in her native Saudi Arabia, concerns four wealthy Muslim girlfriends who support each other in the quest for the perfect husband. An anonymous narrator relays the story via weekly emails to a chat group. The preoccupation with shopping and boy talk among the four central characters, who have been friends since schooldays, seems familiar at first, but the separation of the genders, the veils and the tinted glass soon indicate that different rules apply here. Sadeem gets engaged to Waleed but makes the mistake of permitting him to "cross the line" before the marriage is finalized, and he "divorces" her. Gamrah, married to Rashid, can't understand his coldness toward her until she discovers he has had a lover all along. Gamrah too ends up divorced, and pregnant. Michelle falls for Faisal, but his mother objects to her family so there will be no wedding. Lamees gets involved with her Shiite friend's brother, until the Religious Police catch them. These four privileged members of the "velvet class" enjoy expensive cars, first-class flights and plastic surgery (which is against the laws of Islam) but are still subject to the marriage market, where strict tradition holds sway: arranged unions, "pure" females and jealously protective men. Lamees succeeds in making a love match, but Sadeem experiences a second, much deeper disappointment before settling for someone who loves her more than she loves him. Michelle takes revenge on Faisal, attending his wedding looking far lovelier than the bride. Perfunctory storytelling attracts greater interest because of its unusual origins.