I have a suggested reading for anyone who is curious about life in the Middle East, but would like a super easy entry into its world. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa al-Sanea is a chick-lit book that is super easy to read. But it is infinitely more interesting than all the other chick-lit because of its Saudi setting and characters.
Many people have criticized it for its chick-lit qualities or for representing only a minority of Saudi women, blah blah blah. That’s not why I think the book is worth reading. It’s not intended to be a critical look at Saudi gender roles or life or religion; it’s intended to be an entertaining story that can’t help but touch on the issues, which is exactly why it is so valuable. It shows people that are so completely foreign to most English speakers that they don’t dare to presume any commonalities. It’s easier to just assume we know nothing and always will. But the drama of love and chick-lit is universal. It lets us see some of the similarities and differences, but in the context of a book of entertainment, without the pressure of fully understanding Islam or the Middle East or making absolute statements about their lifestyles. The Saudi culture is ever-present and it does get discussed at length, but it’s not overbearing. You’re too busy wondering what happens next to dwell on the questions for too long. The book is really the easiest introduction to the Arab World you can get.
Barring a movie. Which I predict will be green-lit in a year or two, mark my words. Especially now that I have endorsed the book and you all are going to read it and pass it around to your friends, who will love you for it. You’re welcome.