Originally released in Arabic in 2005, the novel Girls of Riyadh or Banat al-Riyadh, was immediately banned in Saudi Arabia due to controversial and inflammatory content. Black-market copies of the novel circulated and the daring originality of Girls of Riyadh continues to create a firestorm all over the Arab world and has been a bestseller across much of the Middle East.
It is no surprise that this novel caused an uproar. This is the story of women who negotiate their love lives, professional successes, and rebellions large and small against the strict traditions of their society. This novel represents the mongrel culture of a globalized world, reflecting the way in which the Arab world is being changed by new economic and political realities. Even though the story is set in Riyadh, the characters travel all over the world shedding traditional garb as they cross over into Western society.
Girls of Riyadh narrates the love stories of four young Saudi girls, Lamees, Michelle (half-Saudi, half-American), Gamrah, and Sadeem in the form of emails. This novel reveals the social, romantic, sexual adventures and tribulations of these four young women from the elite classes of Riyadh. Every week, after Friday prayers, an anonymous female narrator sends an email to the subscribers of her online chat group. The novel unfolds in 50 such emails spanning over a year.
These are women who have embraced modern culture and way of thought, as did the story’s author. First-time novelist Rajaa Alsanea, 25, grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the daughter of a family of doctors and is a dental graduate student, living in Chicago. Similarly, the world that her four women characters inhabit is a modern one that contains flirting with boys at the mall, and this affluent contemporary existence causes the girls to collide endlessly with the customs of a culture rooted firmly in an ancient way of life.
–written by Visi Tilak