3. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

girls of riyadhGirls of Riyadh is written in the style of email confessions written by a close friend catching you up on good gossip. It follows four close friends in their quests to find love and marriage in Saudi Arabia, with varying degrees of success, and plenty of outsized drama. Overall, it’s an interesting book and a good look at Saudi dating culture, but it isn’t particularly well written, and I kept getting all of the characters confused – they weren’t quite distinct enough for me to care to tell them apart.

I know this may sound harsh, but I’ve read too many mediocre books about the Middle East to have more patience. This book is definitely geared towards people who haven’t read much about the Middle East, and for them, it would definitely break down stereotypes. The four young women in question are all dating, trying to find love, friendship, and get hurt in the process, make mistakes, and the context is well explained for anyone to read and get a better sense of the culture.

I’m glad I read it, but I had slightly higher expectations for the book. When it came out, this book was actually banned in Saudi Arabia. It’s written in a mix of classical Arabic, Saudi dialect, and other foreign words thrown in to more accurately reflect the ways in which these characters would have communicated. These linguistic and stylistic choices are one of the coolest things coming out of MENA region literature – books and novels that are written in the same dialects spoken by ordinary people – not the formal Arabic of TV presenters and national speeches. The book supposedly touched on extremely racy content, things that weren’t supported by Saudi – and for that, it was banned. The book definitely touches on sex, pre and post-marital and other taboo topics in Saudi, but I was hoping it would go slightly further than it did. Nonetheless, an interesting book, not one I’d super highly recommend, but infinitely better than my review of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen last year.

Pages: 300/793

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~ by lefaquin on March 16, 2014.

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