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Book Review – Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa al-Sanea

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa al-Sanea

Review by Patricia de Hemricourt

Girls of Riyadh has been rightly nick named the “Saudi Sex in the City” as it contains a similar balance of wit, comedy, drama, love and despair, all wrapped in a cultural background as alien to New York as can be.

Riyadh is the Capital of Saudi Arabia, where segregation between men and women is ubiquitous and where a woman’s honor is her most precious possession, that has to be guarded vigilantly at all time as it is easily lost.

As if finding and keeping the right man was not complicated enough, Lamees, Qamrah, Sadeem and Mashael, the four heroines of the novel have to navigate the treacherous waters of cultural gender segregation to find the man they will link their life to, ensnare him and keep him after the wedding, with the help of Um Nowayer who had the misfortune of giving birth to a gay son.

At the beginning of the book, these four are all studying at Riyadh University. By the end, they will have taken vastly different roads.

Without spoiling the plot, let’s say that the book includes butterflies in the stomach visits to the mall, heart wrenching separation between friends due to the divider between Shiites and Sunnis, weddings, birth, divorce, international travels, hectic quasi-schizophrenic change of clothe and culture in airplane toilets, disputes and reconciliations between lovers who are culturally barred from meeting each other and much more.

Yes, even lovers who never meet can have lovers’ tiffs, and they do, though how they achieve such a feat is barely imaginable for a western woman used to go where she pleases as she pleases.

What better way to learn a lot about a foreign culture than by enjoying a wonderfully written chick-lit novel?

Definitely deserves 5 stars, whether for style, content, wit, analysis of cultural quirks and bridging the gap between cultures!!!

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