Alsanea, Rajaa 1981-
Alsanea, Rajaa 1981-
Born 1981, in Kuwait. Education: King Saud University, D.D.S., 2005. Religion: Muslim.
Dentist and writer.
Girls of Riyadh, translation by Rajaa Alsanea and Marilyn Booth, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Rajaa Alsanea is the author of Girls of Riyadh. Hailed by many critics as a Saudi-style Sex and the City, the book, told from the perspective of an anonymous narrator via weekly e-mails to an Internet chat room, takes the reader on a journey through the lives of four young women from wealthy families who are looking for love in Saudi Arabia. It is an environment where the religious police can arrest a couple for meeting at a cafe in broad daylight, women are not permitted to drive, and divorcees are social misfits.
Alsanea was born in Kuwait, the youngest of six children, to liberal Saudi parents who raised their children on the belief that men and women are equal. When her father, an editor and journalist for the information ministry in Kuwait, died when she was eight, her family moved back to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a much more restrictive environment than the children had been accustomed to. Alsanea was in her first year of dentistry college at King Saud University in Riyadh when she began writing Girls of Riyadh. When her older sister Rasha found the first couple of chapters, she insisted that her sister complete the book. After six years of writing, the book was finally published in 2005. To avoid being censored by the Saudi information ministry, her book was first published in Lebanon. The novel was subsequently banned in Saudi Arabia and circulated through black market copies; photocopies of the book changed hands for up to 500 dollars. After a few months, Alsanea gained permission for the book to be legally distributed in Saudi Arabia. The book was a best seller across much of the Middle East, and its rights have been sold in twelve countries.
Many critics felt that the book was not an example of superior writing, but that it was quite interesting and engaging from a sociological perspective. For example, a Kirkus Reviews, critic noted that "perfunctory storytelling attracts greater interest because of its unusual origins." In her review of the book for the San Francisco Chronicle, Malena Watrous noted that "the characters are broadly drawn, and the prose, at least in this translation, seldom sings," but the book is interesting for the fact that it gives the reader "a rare glimpse into ordinary life for young women in Saudi Arabia." Watrous added: "This is not an overtly political novel. This is chick lit—Saudi chick lit. True to form, Alsanea leads each girl to her own version of a happy ending. Still, in its own way, Girls of Riyadh, is a feminist book, as it reveals women making choices and dealing with the often severe consequences." New Statesman reviewer Roger Hardy felt that the book "is highly readable without being great literature. Some readers will be exasperated by the self-obsession of the Saudi me-generation. But it is a wonderfully vivid social portrait of stifled lives, and one that shows there is now a brave new generation of Saudi women no longer ready to suffer in silence."
In an interview for the London Times, Alsanea admitted: "I didn't think about breaking any taboos or being a rebel. I wanted to describe how people find ways to get around some of the traditions. Young women I know want to be modern, hip, stylish and fall in love, the same as women everywhere. I was never trying to cause a scandal."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Girls of Riyadh, p. 36.
Books, July 7, 2007, "Private Lives: Debut Novel Delves into the Conflicts and Passions of a Group of Saudi Women," p. 6.
Bookseller, June 29, 2007, review of Girls of Riyadh, p. 12.
Guardian (London, England), July 14, 2007, Fatema Ahmed, review of Girls of Riyadh.
Independent (London, England), August 3, 2007, Alev Adil, review of Girls of Riyadh.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2007, review of Girls of Riyadh.
New Statesman, July 19, 2007, Roger Hardy, "Girl Trouble," p. 58.
Observer (London, England), July 22, 2007, Rachel Aspden, review of Girls of Riyadh.
Publishers Weekly, May 14, 2007, review of Girls of Riyadh, p. 32.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 29, 2007, Malena Watrous, review of Girls of Riyadh.
Telegraph (London, England), June 30, 2007, review of Girls of Riyadh; July 19, 2007, Lucy Beresford, review of Girls of Riyadh.
Times (London, England), July 8, 2007, Lesley Thomas, review of Girls of Riyadh; July 14, 2007, Christina Koning, review of Girls of Riyadh.
Times Literary Supplement, July 27, 2007, "A Saudi Soap Opera," p. 18.
Arab News,http://aawsat.com/ (January 25, 2008), Raid Qusti, "Court Rejects Case against Rajaa Al-Sanea."
Asharq Al-Awsat,http://aawsat.com/ (January 25, 2008), Omar El Okeily, interview with Rajaa Alsanea.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (January 9, 2008), Shannon Luders-Manuel, review of Girls of Riyadh.
Homan,http://www.homanla.org/ (January 9, 2008), review of Girls of Riyadh.
Or Does It Explode,http://www.ordoesitexplode.com/ (July 8, 2007), interview with Rajaa Alsanea.
Straight.com,http://www.straight.com/ (August 23, 2007), Alexander Varty, review of Girls of Riyadh.
University of Illinois at Chicago Web site,http://www.uic.edu/ (January 8, 2008).