So I just finished Girls of Riyadh, a book I'd been dying to get my hands on ever since I read about the storm that broke when it was first published in Arabic years ago. And how gleeful I was when the English translation came out!
The Girls of Riyadh concentrates on the lives of four girls, who are like girls anywhere. They love shopping, dressing up, watching movies, gossip. They dream of true love, to live a life of security and respect, striking a balance with religion and modernity.
I must say though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it was a bit exhausting to read about all the different guys taking the girls for a ride. You'd think all men were spineless bimbos. Why waste a woman's time when you know she doesn't fit your mother's criteria and you don't have the guts (I want to use a much stronger, more profane word but I shall refrain from it) to change the maternal mind? Why let a girl dream and raise her hopes when you only intend to bring them crashing down by being unable to offer her what she wants? Let live dammit!
What I really liked about the book were the little tidbits of Arab culture and language. I think it's important to learn something however small, from a book or a movie. Each chapter of the book begins with an enlightening quote varying from Arab singers and poets, televangelists, English writers, the Quran..
Did I forget to mention the book has a very Gossip Girl like feel to it (or the other way around I suppose since the it was first published in Arabic in 2005 and Gossip Girl is, as of now, just a little over 3 seasons old)? The story of the four girls is narrated through a series of weekly emails forwarded by their young friend(unknown to the reader) to every Saudi address she can find. And did I mention that these four girls are of the 'velvet' class of society? So reminiscent of the Upper East Side.
The book did a good job bringing to light that the prevailing psyche of the ultraconservative society doesn't necessarily reflect what Islam preaches . The dialogue however, could have been better. Or maybe it just doesn't have the same effect in English as it probably does in Arabic. The narrative description more than makes up for it. Especially the emotional upheavals and the bits about women eying other women and their attire jealously, tongues on the ready to slander. ('Women don't pretty themselves up for men: they do it to get back at other women.' - Sacha Guitry xD)
I'll end with a poem by Nizar Qabbani from the book:
If only I had known how very dangerous love was,
I wouldn't have loved
If only I had known how deep the sea was,
I wouldn't have set sail.
If only I had known my very own ending,
I wouldn't have begun.