An anonymous female internet user sends highly controversial emails every Friday to a mushrooming group of Saudi readers. In the emails, she recounts the adventures of four of her friends, all upper-crust urban girls in their late teens, who are on the cusp of pursuing marriages and/or university degrees. The anonymous blogger broaches ideas of love, heartbreak, marriage, and faith, claiming to speak out for Saudi women everywhere when she gets backlash from her readership, who criticize her morality and religiosity.
I recommend this book because it was illuminating. I haven't been able to classify it as "good" or "very good" or "very bad" or anything; I'm simply not prepared to make a judgment call. Here's why. The content, in theory, could be construed as trashy--the girls in question are all rolling in money, and yet this fact is never acknowledged (sure, they all have personal drivers who wait for them literally around the clock--it's never questioned in the book that "everyone" and certainly every good Saudi woman has a driver). The girls all declare that they love Sex & the City, and this is without a trace of irony or self-reflection (one girl, Gamrah, insists on watching all the episodes even though she doesn't understand English and has no clue what they're saying). So the book is, on the one hand, an answer to chick lit.
On the other hand, the content is, as I mentioned, illuminating. Although the writing didn't really hold me--the translation is very readable and conversational, but I don't think high art was the aim of the prose--and sometimes the girls' attitudes toward themselves frustrated me, I learned a lot about a culture that I think is difficult to absorb in positive pop culture. This was a book written by a Saudi and for Saudis, unlike so many of the books about the Middle East that play on themes of escape and oppression in order to appeal to American audiences. Although Alsanea is critical of her own society in Girls of Riyadh, her take on modern Islam is a totally different animal than a book like Kite Runner--which, incidentally, I love--can ever offer. It's missing the degree of alientation any book written FOR a foreign culture necessarily imposes.
I don't want to go on and on here, although I have a lot more to say about the book. If anyone else has read it, leave me a comment...