Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa AlSanea

“Have you read Girls of Riyadh?” my friend asked me on the phone, and when I said I had not, she said she would bring it to me.

“It’s an easy read” she said, “it will take you an afternoon.”

Sometimes life intruded. It took me a little longer. I had expected this to be lightweight, along the lines of the shopaholic books, read ’em and forget ’em. Airport reading, stuff you save to read when you know you will have time to kill.

I was surprised. I guess I had gotten the impression it was lightweight because I had seen it discussed on some of the blogs, and there are some light-hearted moments in the book. The four young women are well drawn, and their experiences are handled with sensitivity. She never reveals which character from the book she is, but I have my suspicions. πŸ™‚

Each girl has her own unique experiences as she reaches young womanhood, and mating. Although the experiences are treated deftly, there is a serious undercurrent that belies the light tone. The underlying circumstances surrounding the mating rituals in a country so tradition-bound as Saudi Arabia turn mating into a dark ritual, full of unseen pits and minefields.

The very worst fear during these years is the wagging tongues of others. I have heard this theme over and over in my own dealings with young women in this part of the world.

“You know, khalto, a woman’s reputation is like glass, it is easily shattered,” explained my young-woman Qatteri friend, solemnly.

(for my Western readers, Khalto means ‘aunt’ literally, and is a term used respectfully for family friends, meaning ‘sister of my mother’)

“I don’t want to get married,” she continued, “They come for you as a bride and they are so nice and they make you feel so in love with them, but then, when you are married, they change. Men are . . . men are . . ”

“Dogs?” I asked.

“Yes! Yes!,” she exclaimed, “Dogs!” (pause)

“How did you know, Khalto?”

LLLLOOOOLLLLLLLLLL! It’s one of those moments when you know we are all more alike than we are different.

Girls of Riyadh is a worthy read. It is thought-provoking, and compassion-provoking. You grow to love these girls, and you hope a happy ending for them.

September 28, 2009 - Posted by | Beauty, Books, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Relationships, Saudi Arabia, Social Issues, Women's Issues


  1. I have enjoyed reading it too πŸ™‚

    Comment by Ra-1 | September 28, 2009 | Reply

  2. I liked the book and you were right – very easy to read.

    I hope that more women from the GCC countries will write about their experiences. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the female population of the Middle East and I think most Westerners are shocked to discover that hey, “They’re just like us!” Good for you, Rajaa!

    Comment by Desert Girl | September 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. They say the book was translated to 16 living languages , i wonder if the girl made it rich

    Comment by daggero | September 28, 2009 | Reply

  4. Ra-1 – It’s a thoughtful read, isn’t it?

    Desert Girl – Our own society has changed a great deal – but our customs were not all that different – arranged marriages – strict prohibitions against premarital sex . . .

    Daggero – I hope so! πŸ˜€

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 28, 2009 | Reply

  5. The girl, I heard, is studying dentistry in the US and she’s due to finish soon. Not sure of this info.

    I really enjoyed reading her book. There were moments there that were very touching. I’m surprised it seems a lot of Westerners are asking me about it now although I read a long long time ago in Arabic. Did it just get translated this year?

    Comment by 1001 Nights | September 29, 2009 | Reply

  6. great great book! I stole it from Grandma three summers ago and read it all in one go – couldn’t put it down! and you’re right: it was sold in the US as both an expose and “chick lit” – but its much more.

    Comment by adiamondinsunlight | September 29, 2009 | Reply

  7. 1001 – I think it came out a couple years ago in English. I thought it was one of those sensational books, maybe written by a foreigner about how awful Saudi was and I just didn’t bother with it until my friend – whom i greatly respect – passed it along to me. From the beginning, I was impressed. It rang true, according to my own limited experience in Saudi Arabia. Whatever she is doing, I hope she is enjoying her time in the West, and I hope she experiences great success.

    Diamond – Aha! OK, so that is how I got my impression. I remember thinking as I read it that it was so much more than I had thought it would be. Thank you!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 29, 2009 | Reply

  8. Yeah, it’s a page turner for sure, especially for someone on the outside looking in.If you’ve lived in the region thoughlong enough to understand your ikamas from your havayyas then “Girls of Riyadh” is prolly not for you.

    How goes it, Seattle mama? You are not to be seen anywhere not even on

    Comment by Borderline Heterosexual of Low Homosexual Potential | October 1, 2009 | Reply

  9. LLOOLL, good morning, BL. I am back in Doha, exploring all the changes here.

    Last night I was in a place – great restaurant – the terrace is clearly the Thursday-night-place-to-be. It had the air of a singles bar for locals. Most of the girls arrived in multiples, with one male escort – my guess, some younger brother. The guys arrived in droves. Lots of texting going on. New technologies drive new mating methods.

    I also think the blogging climate in the Gulf continues to change, as restrictions ease into place, as bloggers get arrested . . . so I am still here, more restrained.

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 2, 2009 | Reply

  10. “…bloggers get arrested…….am still here, more restrained.”

    What a sad state of affairs! What is our world coming to anyway?!

    Comment by Ever Changing Nick | October 2, 2009 | Reply

  11. It is not Texting anymore my dear Madam it is now called

    B B eming as in “I will be bbming you

    ” Black Berry is in , Nokia is yesterday’s stale bread “

    Comment by daggero | October 3, 2009 | Reply

  12. But Daggero, is it BBM’ing if you use an iPhone? I thought Blackberries were last week?

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 3, 2009 | Reply

  13. Ever changing – The world as I see it in Kuwait and in Qatar is drifting towards increasing intolerance and conservatism. The women are pretty savvy. I think the conservatism is a fear reaction on the part of the lesser educated male population.

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 3, 2009 | Reply

  14. IPhone is a flop . get your BB now

    Comment by daggero | October 4, 2009 | Reply

  15. Daggero – *Sigh* I am not into mastering another technology right now. πŸ™‚ And I rather like being new, not a lot of people have my new phone number . . . it is novel being so disconnected! I kind of like it!

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 5, 2009 | Reply

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