“Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia” by Jean Sasson was a great tale about the life of Sultana al’Saud. It was a great tale about growing up and living in Saudi Arabia. The book was laden with deep critiques of the treatment of women who live within the Kingdom.
Now I’m not naïve enough to think that Sultana’s story is an unbiased look into life as a Saudi Arabian princess. She’s bucking the trend of being a subservient wife who says little and does exactly as what she’s told. Sultana has always had a bit of a tempestuous spirit who wanted to be heard and seen. While she supports the protests and is willing to tell her story to another to be published, she doesn’t take part of the protests and will shy away from breaking the laws herself.
Many parts of the book doesn’t seem to shocking or always shed new light on life in the Middle East after years of studying and reading information about life in the Middle East. While there were tragic tales about women who were killed or kept in isolation for doing things women in the western world take for granted like being raped or just chatting with a boy without a chaperon, it was nice to see how it impacted friends/families. But one of the biggest surprises for me was the amount of servants and even a couple slaves were taking care of the family. They were always present on everything.
One of the things I’ve personally started to think about was the timing that this book happens. It’s back in time compared to most of the things I’ve read. This book was written in 1992 but slightly reedited in 2004 with the majority of the book discussing the 60s-70s. So I know now that women can wear colored abbayas instead of the black ones and there have been some more reforms for women. It’s a classic case of keeping my mind in the right perspective so I can best understand everything.
I was struck by the comment that only the really rich and the really poor had multiple wives in Saudi Arabia. The middle class struggle with the ability to care for multiple wives equally (as required by law). It’s something I would have never thought. But she had a point that it’s easy to raise 4 tents for each of the women and the royals can easily pay for several households, where it’s the middle class that would have struggles with trying to buy four homes and feed everyone.
The thing that drove me nuts at times was how words weren’t always spelled the way I was expecting. I’ve heard how Arabic could be like Russian where direct translations into English could be difficult and there can be multiple ways to spell things, but I didn’t run into that in my readings before. It was just a bit jarring to see Mecca spelled as Mekkah . This wasn’t the only word that was different. I would be able to understand the gist of what was being said but I would have to think about it at times.
I was glad that I read Princess. Not because it revealed a ton but because it was an interesting story of self-discovery and life as a princess.