Book Review: Girls of Riyadh

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.

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6 Responses to Book Review: Girls of Riyadh

  1. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for mentioning the book! I haven’t read chick-lit in a while, so I’ll just pick it up on my Kindle once I’ve got a bit more time.

  2. Liv says:

    I hate chick-lit but this definitely sounds interesting, because foreign perception of Saudi women is probably the farthest away from chick as possible. I have an Egyptian friend who I think is Arab, at least she is Muslim and speaks Arabic. She is always “chique” which I thought was Americanized. But maybe not.

  3. Chantelle says:

    This sounds interesting. I’d like to read it and hopefully, I actually will. I’m definitely adding it to my to-read list.

  4. Vera says:

    I’ve seen the book around, but as I’ve been taking a break from chicklit (with a few exceptions), I didn’t pick it up. But now that I read your review I will probably pick it up, if only for the novel setting.

  5. eemusings says:

    I just read Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King (about an American dude having a mid life crisis while in the Middle East). Terrible book, but possibly accurate in regard to culture?

    And did you see this? http://thebillfold.com/2013/04/the-cost-of-things-in-qatar/

    • mmarinaa says:

      I hadn’t seen it, thanks for sharing. Doha is indeed very similar to Abu Dhabi, it seems, haha. But the price of things isn’t really that different if you pay any attention to what you’re buying. Like he said, you can get a falafel sandwich for a dollar. And you’re an idiot if you eat at the chains every day. If the laborers manage to make it on their $200 a month, it’s obviously possible here. The only thing that I would agree with is that there are no cheap drinking establishments like the dive bars I used to frequent. But if you buy the bottle and drink at home, it’s the same price as home.

      Why was the book terrible? I’m not fond of Eggers as a writer in general, actually, haha. You too? But apparently he’s been to Saudi, so he’d know more about their culture than I would probably. (Saudi is not at all the same as Abu Dhabi.)

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