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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Pages: 300
Year: 2007
Published By: Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books

How silly can these girls get? What about their families, can they not see it hitting them in the face? Will that email chatter stop for a bit? What are they going to do next?

Alright, the cover may be gorgeous but the narrative doesn't sing immediately. Instead, it's the little details that resonate and it is those details that draw you into the lives of Gamrah, Lamees, Michelle and Sadeem - the 'Girls of Riyadh' originally Banat al-Riyadh in Arabic.

The book was hotly debated, banned, then made it big in the black market. If you are expecting lots of sex in the city, that's not what it is. There is love, largely doomed and explained through an in your face narrative. The wildest things happen when the girls are organise a bridal shower or when Sadeem imagines the signing of her wedding contract is as good as a marriage and ends up being rejected by her persistent suitor for apparently being forthright. Michelle's life is torn apart when she develops more than a little attraction for her cousin and Gamrah's life seems doomed the day singlehood ends.

As each of their stories unfold, you piece together the bits you have barely heard about Saudi society. As it was first written in Arabic and for an audience that already knows its ground, the novel is shorn of embellishments, Rajaa Alsanea tells the story as it should be. Full credit to her for keeping us guessing, flipping the pages and hoping for the very best for the girls.

I enjoyed it thoroughly, even though when I started I imagined it would be another one of those take on your plane ride kinda book.

Speaking of literary prophecies, here's one right in the book:

The series of enticing offers continue, as do all sorts of propositions, and I cannot distinguish the sincere from the scam. One Saudi producer sent me a proposal to transform my e-mails into a Ramadan TV series of thirty episodes? Why not? If we were already talking about publishing it as a novel, why not film it for TV? I concur with our own Abdullah Al-Ghadhami (established Saudi critic), that the literature of the written word is bourgeois, while the image is democratic. I prefer the series to the novel, because I want stories of my friends to reach everyone. This would certainly be a beginning.

I couldn't agree more.

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