‘Girls of Riyadh’: Saudi Arabia’s ‘Sex and the City’?

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  09.17.07 | 12:40 PM ET

imageIn June we blogged about one Western woman’s experience traveling under the abaya in Saudi Arabia. Now, Rajaa Alsanea’s debut novel, Girls of Riyadh, offers a look at the experiences of the women who spend their entire lives negotiating Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic code. The book, which is being called “Sex and the City, Saudi-style,” was recently released in North America and the UK; it already boasts bestseller status in Germany and the Netherlands as well as a banning in Saudi Arabia itself.

The story follows four young women from Riyadh’s elite as they experience, as best they can, the pleasures and pitfalls of romance. A review in The Independent describes the way the girls meet men:

“Contact with the opposite sex takes place in coincidental and transient encounters: quick glimpses, snatched moments, stolen glances, drive-by complicities. Seeing the tinted car windows that indicate female occupants, young men hold up placards with their mobile numbers, throw business cards, hand out roses with numbers wrapped around the stem. Repression breeds rather than suppresses desire… The Bulgari-scented Romeos of Riyadh woo the girls with gifts of diamond earrings, meals from Burger King, teddy bears that play Barry Manilow songs, laptops and mobile phones.”

Modern technology is central to the girls’ endeavours, as are the increasingly frequent collisions between Saudi tradition and Western influence. The publisher’s description notes that the novel “represents the mongrel culture and language of a globalized world, reflecting the way in which the Arab world is being changed by new economic and political realities… These women understand the Western worldview and experiment with reconciling pieces of it with their own.”

One of the concerns cited by Saudi Arabian authorities who banned the book was that Westerners might use it to validate their criticisms of Saudi society. But while Alsanea is critical of some of the controls placed on women in her home country, she also wants her novel to change the perceptions of outsiders. “Riyadh isn’t all camels and oil wells, that’s conventional Western thinking,” she said in an interview for Marie Claire. “I haven’t seen a camel in my life.”

Related on World Hum:
* A Western Woman in Saudi Arabia: ‘The Rules Are Different Here’
* Saudi Arabia Lifts Photo Ban for Tourists
* 10 Greatest Fictional Travelers

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

5 Comments for ‘Girls of Riyadh’: Saudi Arabia’s ‘Sex and the City’?

Ahmed 09.17.07 | 6:37 PM ET

This is me with Metin

Farhan Ahmed Mir 09.18.07 | 6:18 AM ET


Mala@traveling-stories-magazine 09.18.07 | 5:49 PM ET

“I haven’t seen a camel in my life”. There are a lot of stereotypes tourists associate with locals. Associating ancient traditions with witchcraft,thinking mail order brides are ready and waiting desparately everywhere, expressing surprise at the availability of latest tech gizmos in other countries often surprise locals.
Hopefully, books such as these’humanize’ and foster our understanding of people from cultures other than our own.
Mala Mukunda

saudimedic 09.19.07 | 3:41 AM ET

Another book that has come out about Saudi is called “Paramedic to the Prince” written by an American Paramedic who was on the medical staff of King Abdullah. This is really a true and rare insight into Saudi Society. A book by a rich Saudi girl is really just alot of fluff and fails to show what Saudi society is really like. If you want to read the best book written about Saudi Arabia in years I suggest you pick up “Paramedic to the Prince”

Ershad Ali 04.26.08 | 5:30 PM ET

Western womens already lost their dignity and their modesty but muslim womens still have their dignity and Inshah Allah Awlays…
  So in my view this is called Jealousy

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.