Sunday, May 8, 2016

Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia - by Jean Sasson

You know, it can be a bit trying to keep up when you belong to 3 book clubs.  For the RBC, most of the books I have read beforehand.  And sometimes I'll get lucky that the Los Gatos Library Tuesday Evening Book Club or the Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Book Club will pick a book that I've already read.    But if none of that happens, I might be reading a couple of book club books each month.  Having said all of that, and even acting a little bit as if I'm unhappy with that arrangement, the truth is that it's really cool.  I've told you many times how lucky I am to be in an area where there are so many local authors that I get to meet. And how that has led me to reading books in genres that I would normally never read.  But that's also true of these book clubs.  Most of the time the books we read are in the literary fiction or memoir category.  But they are also books that I would never even think to read. Princess is one of those.

The complete title (see the heading) kind of tells all.  But I'll give you one short blurb:

Princess recounts the true story of Princess Sultana Al Sa'ud, a princess in the royal house of Saudi Arabia.  Hidden behind her black veil, she is a prisoner, jailed by her father, her husband and her country.

Princess is actually the 1st book in a trilogy.  This one takes place mostly in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  It tells us Sultana's story from childhood through the early years of marriage and children.  You may have seen this story from me before.  That's because on January 28, 2015, I wrote a review of a memoir written by Bay Area author Laila El-Sissi.  Her book, Out from the Shadow of Men, told of her childhood in Egypt around the same time as Sultana's in Saudi Arabia.  Although they are 2 very different countries, both Laila and Sultana had very similar upbringings.  Princess just confirms what Laila says about growing up in an ultra-conservative Muslim household.  Different country, same restrictions on women.

And like Laila's book, I appreciated the opportunity to learn about another culture.  While I was growing up in the Bay Area, where boys and girls had mostly the same freedom and independence, Sultana was growing up in a country where subservience for women was the norm.  I do have to say, though, that Sultana grew up in a royal family.  So even though she was treated differently than her brother, and so many other royal princes, the fact remains that she was very privileged.  She took such things as unlimited clothes and trips and servants for granted.  I know it wasn't easy playing 2nd fiddle to the males in her family. But it's probably a little less onerous when you can have anything you want and around-the-clock maid and servant service.

Besides being very interesting and very informative, it's also very well written.  Jean Sasson is an American-born author who has made it her mission to write about the inequities that women face in the Muslim world.  If Princess is any indication, she is doing a lot to make us non-Muslims more aware of what Muslim women often faced (and still face) in conservative Muslim countries.  I strongly recommend this book to everybody.  And I'm definitely looking forward to the discussion at the Los Gatos Library from 6:30-7:30 on Tuesday night, May 17.

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