January 28, 2008

Banned Books – بنات الرياض

Posted in Books Reviews, English at 2:48 pm by Rou...

Do you know what the reasons of banning books are?  Religion, Sex, and Politics…?

Well, let me tell you that it is not always the case; in the Middle East, there are other reasons too…


In 2005, a firestorm occurred all across Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to the publishing of a – shortly after, bestseller across much of the Middle East – book named “بنات الرياض or “Girls of Riyadh” written by the young female Saudi author “Raja’a alSani’e” (23 years old back then). The novel was immediately banned all across the Kingdom for the sake of preserving the image of the Saudi people and avoiding the controversies it might cause within the Saudi community. However, black-market copies of the book circulated and created uproar not only across the Kingdom, but all over the Arab world due to its daring originality and inflammatory content.


The distinctiveness of its writing approach added a lot to the novel’s excitement, as it is based on a narrative structure that is subject to the voice of the narrator who tells stories of her friends – four upper class Saudi girls studying at the university in Riyadh, the Capital of Saudi Arabia: Sadeem, Qamrah, Lamees and Mashael – through emails sent via a yahoo group to the subscribers, recording the trials and tribulations of the young women and their successes and failures in love and life.


Written over a six-year period, the novel includes a mix of classical and colloquial Arabic and is peppered with transliterated English phrases. In addition, it – deliberately – uses an informal writing style, common in internet forums.


The title of the novel is full of irony as it was taken from a song by a famous Saudi singer*. Also, the email address of the group that the narrator used was called “سيرة و انفضحت” or “Memoirs Exposed” which is a twist on the name of a famous TV show called “سيرة و انفتحت” or “Memoirs Disclosed”.


Generally speaking, the novel is alive with lots of wittiness and laughs as the narrator commented on the events with her humorous style. For instance, she described how the girls danced in the wedding in a hilarious way along with the way women looked at each other with jealousy. She also described how men walked in their “ugly underwear” in their houses after marriage and made fun of that.  


Being an anonymous solo voice gave the narrator enough space to reveal and talk with verbosity about the different kinds of suppression that the Arabian women in general and Saudi women in particular are subjected to. Focusing on the opinions, situations and beliefs of women in the Saudi society, the novel fiercely exposed a section of the society that was previously hidden due to culture, traditions and religion.



All the best,


On January 28, 2008 



* The song name is “يا بنات الرياض”, sung by “عبد المجيد عبد الله”.



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