Think of Saudi Arabia and what do you see? Terrorists spreading fear? Religious zealots? A corrupt government and a fabulously wealthy royal family living lives of unbelievably luxury?
Jean Sasson captures the flavour and reality of life in a country of extremes and contradictions. Princess ‘Sultana’, a real Saudi princess closely related to the King, lives those contradictions, with priceless jewels, many servants, unlimited funds at her disposal, but no freedom. A prisoner in a gilded cage with no vote, no control, no value, but as a mother of sons, she is totally at the mercy if the men in her life… her father, her brother, her husband.
For the first time, a royal Saudi woman opens the door to give readers an unvarnished look inside a closed society. ‘Sultana’ lifts the veil on the shocking world of forced marriages, sex slavery, honour killings and other outrages against women, both royal and common.
Princess is a testimony to a woman of indomitable spirit and great courage. By speaking out, ‘Sultana’ risks the wrath of the Saudi establishment and for this reason, she has told her story to Jean Sasson. This is a real-life story you will never forget.
My thoughts –
As per the rules of the 2016 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge – March motif, I was supposed to pick up a book on time travel or a book set in a country different than where you live. While going through the possible options from my ever-growing to-be-read list, I found PRINCESS. The cover with a set of piercing eyes on a face covered with a veil & intriguing blurb made by job easier and I went ahead with it.
PRINCESS is the story of a Saudi princess as told to an American journalist. It tells the reader about the hypocrisy and dysfunction in the royal family and of the immense inequalities amongst the male & female members. To be born as a man in Saudi seemed to be no less than being a God since all the odds, no matter what they do, are in their favour….always! The ruthlessness and cage-like life of the women and more so of the foreigner women workers are heart wrenching & breaches all kinds of human rights. While reading it, many a times I had goose bumps reading about the atrocities on women and made me feel so helpless and sad for the women actually enduring it. Women punished for being raped while the men doing it going scot-free or let off with a warning, women being stoned to death for ‘alleged’ crimes, fathers & brothers killing their own daughters & sisters for their act of talking to men other than family members, marrying off small girls to men of their father’s age, virginity playing a vital role on the first night of wedding in a woman’s life while no such thing existing for a man, genital mutilation, keeping foreign workers as sex slaves, etc. are only a few of the many incidents mentioned here. Like the Princess herself says many a times, how can the so-called religious men proclaim that this is the will of the God for no God will favour inequalities amongst His own children? The men-folk out there seemed to have interpreted the religion as per their convenience and carrying on with the atrocities in the name of religion & God.
While I felt that, the entire book might not be the actual autobiography of a Saudi princess as it had many loopholes vis-a-vis the claims, but I do think that it strings together incidents & happenings to give the reader an idea of the state of affairs in the country & also the living conditions of the women. They may have the riches of the world at their feet but they do not have free-will & freedom and for the poor ones, the things are worst. Also, since the book was written in 2004, there must have been many changes in the country since then and I really hope that it has.
After reading PRINCESS, I felt much privileged of the life I have. Yes, I do not live in a bias-free and men-women-are-equals-kinda world but then I did realise that I am so much better off than the Saudi women.
Final words –
A captivating and fast paced book that offers a peek (may or may not be biased) into the lives of Saudi women.
- This review is linked to my 2016 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge & Goodreads Reading Challenge, 2016.