Thumbs up for Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea. Chick lit.
I debated a while about whether to label this as “Literature” or “Chick lit.” It’s a gossipy, conversational novel about the romantic lives of four young female friends (thus, chick lit), but by definition chick lit has a sappy romantic ending, and Girls, vernacular style aside, is just too realistic to qualify. Saudi Arabian culture does not lend itself to sappy romantic endings, and neither the author nor her fictional narrator tries to kid us. It could just as easily be filed in “Gender Studies.” So think of it as anthropological literature masquerading as chick lit. If that intrigues you, and you have a high tolerance for awkward translations, try it out.
Tonight’s the night. The heroes of my story are people among you, from you and within you, for from the desert we all come and to the desert we shall all return. Just as it is with our desert plants, you’ll find the sweet and the thorny here, the virtuous and the wicked. Some of my heroes are sweet and others are thorny, while a few are a bit of both at the same time. So keep the secrets you will be told, or as we say, “Shield what you may encounter!” And since I have quite boldly started writing this e-mail without consulting my girlfriends, and because every one of them lives huddled in the shadow of a man, or a wall, or a man who is a wall [footnote: There is an Arabic proverb that says: “Better the shadow of a man than the shadow of a wall], or simply stays put in the darkness, I’ve decided to change all the names of the people I will write about and make a few alterations to the facts, but in a way that will not compromise the honesty of the tale nor take the sting out of the truth. To be frank, I don’t give a damn about the repercussions of this project of mine. As Kazantakis put it, “I expect nothing. I fear no one. I am free.” Yet a way of life has stood its ground in the face of all you’ll read here; and I have to admit that I don’t consider it an achievement to destroy it by means of a bunch of e-mails.
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