This past week seems to have been devoted to girl power! I had the pleasure of watching Sex and the City with a girl friend and now I’ve just finished with the Girls of Riyadh, the debut novel of Rajaa Alsanea. And while the girls of the aforementioned book, are likewise fans of Sex and the City (and probably would’ve watched the movie too) the book deals with much more than sex and the city. Pun intended! Back to the book, it is all about a group of 4 university friends from Riyadh, trying to gracefully make their way through the tangled weave of modern love and life. Their lot is complicated by the fact that they have strict cultural and religious traditions to contend with.
The story unfolds through a series of emails sent every week after Friday prayers. The four girls are Gamrah, Michelle, Sadeem and Lamees and they are pretty much like other modern girls everywhere. They are preoccupied with finding their place in society and leaving their mark on it. Of course it goes without saying that they are deeply preoccupied with love, specifically the search and finding of the One. And maybe because I’ve just seen Sex and the City, but the girls predicament is so cannily echoed by Charlotte’s plaintive cry that she’d been dating since 15 and was tired of not finding the ONE!
What easily lifts this book out from the pile of easily dismissed chick lit genre is that it is one of the few books written by a distinctly modern Arabic female writer that is available to us non-Arabic readers. And if it seems that much emphasis is placed on the writer’s gender, it cannot be emphasized enough that it is a rare enough occasion that readers are treated to a an insider’s account (albeit a literary one) of women’s lives in a part of the world that remains veiled, pun unintended, to non Western eyes. If its only achievement is to open our eyes to the daily struggle, frustrations and even triumphs of young Arabic women, then it is more than enough. But as it is, the Girls of Riyadh is also funny, smart and well written with plenty of things to say about women that is worth listening to.
RWB Question: Women’s friendships are a thematic staple in literature, what is the book (or books) that you and your group of girls love?