Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books We Girls Buy in Oman: "Girls of Riyadh" by Rajaa Alsanea

This is a new section for the blog where OPNO shall review books women tend to buy in Oman, especially expat women. As OPNO doesn't particularily enjoy Chick-litt unless it is well written, or it is made into a cute movie, like "Shopoholic", I hope you can enjoy her opinions;p

Here goes:

So, "Girls of Riyadh" was banned at first in Saudi Arabia, and the original Arabic translation went around on the blackmarket. Much love to Rajaa Alsanea for having the guts to talk about difficult Saudi traditions regarding sex and premaritial dating [with or without the former] that complicate many a life in the Kingdom. That said, I will make an allowance for the quality of the writing and try not to class the book as classic "chick litt" and blame the translator instead, or the English language itself, for not having the right words to convey Alsanea's original style which might have been more enticing for the English reader.

That said, if the ban was the reason you picked the book up and what got you all excited, you might actually enjoy your read. The book follows the love lives' of four young, upper middleclass Saudi women from the Kingdom's Capital, Riyadh.

Since OPNO's real-life Saudi friend circle consists MAINLY of women from this class of Saudi women, I find the portrait painted of the women themselves in the story highly innacurate and unrepresentative of Saudi women as a whole. Which most of my friends, the "girls" of Riyadh, will tell you themselves if you for a moment think them to be as irreligious and materialistic as the girls in the book. But that, they will tell you, as I now will in better English than they can for the most part afford [albeit in attrocious run-on sentances] is not the glorious point the book made that made it so salaciously spoken of by those weak minds it contradicted and confronted.

Following the love lives of the girls in a controversial way that is overly stated to make a point, we encounter time and time again, the very flat character that is the "man/boy of Riyadh". The flatness of his character, his inability to stand up to his overwhelming family or tribal ties, or his woman's career choice, or even his own desires', is TRULY what the novel addresses.

While Alsanea clearly narrates that this story is about the girls' lives, the antagonist is always the flatness of the male Saudi character and his inability to stand up to anything, even for the sake of himself. Traditions tie him thus, just as the girls are tied, but the book does not confront those traditions in a head-on way, more or less it snakes around the failed expectation for the man to do that while the girls go on with their careers inside the traditions that define Riyadh society to whatever fate awaits them. Either the lonely, tragic and bleak demise of hope for love, or the solid but not romantic traditional safety net won by driving within the lines.

Which makes reading the middle towards the end a little slow.

Which, reminds me very much, of the girls of Riyadh, that I DO know.

Did I love the book? No. Did I like it? Not really. Did I find it relevant? Yes, but not for the reasons it was marketed to its English audience.

What did I like about besides its relevance?

I like the style of narration from the beginning of the book. The character is sending out a string of weekly anonymous emails subscribed to by her followers, detailing the lives of the four young women the novel revolves around. This style is very realistic, and punchy, to the point of its relevance. I found it to be the ONLY highly realistic ungeneralised thing about the book.

The girls of Riyadh that I know? That is EXACTLY how they would tell the world the story of their lives, if they so desired to.

That's what we girls do on the OPNO blog, afterall;)


Anonymous said...

So, how are the girls in Riyadh really?

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

Anon: Upper middleclass Banaat from Riyadh? I honestly never met anyone who was poor from Riyadh but the majority I have met are very intelligent, well travelled, quite religious, and generally do aim to marry for love but tribalism and money get in the way. They do tend to have nice pocessions but they aren't obsessed with them the way the girls from Riyadh from the mid middle class are lol. As for following their religion, they pretty strictly follow most fatwas from KSA, but are generally uninformed about the reasons for things, or how Islamic evidences are formed to come to their own conclusions. This is the majority of Saudi women I know from Riyadh who the book narrates about.