Not so majestic after all

by Khushboo on February 15, 2012

One of my 2012 resolutions was to read more regularly and I’m already 2 books down…not too shabby!  The first book I read Privileges by Jonathan Dee was not one I would recommend, however the second completely made up for it: Princess by Jean Sasson.  Considering I’m not much of a reader, it’s a huge deal that I finished this book within 3 days.

Princess is a true story based on the life of the Saudi Princess Sultana Al Sa’ud (name changed for confidentiality reasons).  Hidden behind her black veil, she is a prisoner, jailed by her father, brother, her husband, and her country.  It starts when she is four years old and the author chronicles her life and transition into a wife & mother.  Reading about the oppressions that became the norm for Arab women was all too fascinating yet heart-wrenching to read: fourteen-year-old girls forced to marry men thrice their age, sexual abuse, young women killed by drowning, stoning or isolation in the “women’s room”.

Princess definitely made me all the more grateful for the opportunities I am blessed with despite my sex.  My parents encouraged me to obtain a university degree, I have the freedom to travel as I please, I am able to choose the man I marry, I can wear dresses whenever I want (despite my grandmother’s occasional dismay at the length of some ;) )…the list is endless.  However at the same time, as an Indian, I could somewhat identify to the upper-hand males have.  Although it’s not to the same extent as the Arab culture (as portrayed by the book), the boys in my community too face some ‘privileges’:

  • It’s more acceptable for a boy to marry a Non-Hindu than it is for a girl
  • Boys can come home any time they please without being questioned
  • During death, women of the family are not allowed to participate in any of the rituals…regardless of her relationship with the deceased
  • There’s less pressure for a boy to get married
  • To some degree, the birth of a son is favourable as they will eventually continue the family name

There are few books which leave me raving about it once I’m done reading it, but this book truly was shocking, fascinating, heart-breaking, outrageous, thought-provoking, and simply unbelievable.  Given its writing style, the book was an easy read and I would fully recommend it to every female. If anything it’s a huge eye-opener at how lucky we are: every day we are given the freedom to express our individuality in the clothes we wear, the company we keep, the choices we make, and the paths we choose to walk in life.

Have you read any book which really gave you food for thought? Any recommendations?

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara K February 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm

I read Princess and the two following books several years ago- I do have to say it’s a controversial book though and contrary to popular belief it’s not based on a true story, but exaggerations that Jean Sasson collected/scandalized while she was apparently being the confider for a Saudi princess. While I admit it’s a juicy and attention-maintaining read, I found it offensive at how it perpetuated so many of the stereotypes about Arab/Saudi culture. While yes there are sadly many gender inequality issues in the Arab world, they are not Islam-based. Also, as someone who has spent a significant amount of time in Saudi Arabia immersed in my mother’s culture and interacting in some of the same social circles as the royal family, I found the books to be a far cry from actuality and almost as a platform for bashing our culture through scandalous and disturbing passages distant from the truth.
Haha sorry for such a long-winded response :) I’m currently reading Maximum City- which i LOVE by the way!

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Nada (One Arab Vegan) February 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I’ve never read these books, but I can just imagine the kind of exaggerations that would be made. It irritates me because I feel like the Western audience this book was probably aimed at are generally uninformed on Arab culture so would assume everything in it to be gospel. Needless to say we don’t need any more bad publicity!

On that note, one book I read a couple of summers ago and loved was “How Does it Feel to be a Problem – Being Young and Arab in America” by Moustafa Bayoumi. It includes several accounts of young Arab-Americans and their experiences post 9/11. Very interesting and eye opening.

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm

An Indian movie called “My Name is Khan” was made a couple of years ago which showed the injustices Indians/Muslims/Arabs face when flying into the US or even just living there due to the 9/11 attacks. It was a horrific reality check.

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 11:51 am

Thanks for such an insightful comment- I did have doubts about how true the account was as I had read that a lawsuit was brought against Sasson for exaggeration. I think it’s important to go into reading books like this with being aware and also take it with a grain of salt.

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Parita @ myinnershakti February 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I must read this book! It sounds fascinating and sad all at the same time. Have you read Thousand Splendid Suns? It’s another good one.

And I agree that Indian boys/men still hold the upperhand in a lot of situations. However, I do think that’s slowly changing. Vishnu and I were actually talking about this over the weekend. In order for things to change, women needs to give up some of the control and stereotypes they experienced growing up. For example, there is nothing wrong with Vishnu doing the dishes or folding laundry. And I have to let him do those things and not let him get away with sitting on the couch after dinner.

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 11:53 am

I haven’t read Thousand Splendid Suns but I read Kite Runner which I loved! I think we actually have a copy at home so may need to read it finally! And I like what you said about women giving up control- it’s no more a shocker that guys can do laundry/cook…it should be a necessity!

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Alexandra February 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Sounds like a really interesting read! I love learning about different cultures and views, so I may have to pick this up. :)

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Same here, it’s always fascinating to learn about new cultures!

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Tessa at Amazing Assett February 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm

What a read! This is one I will have to pick up as this genre type is among y favorites! Thank you for the detailed review

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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Kiran @ KiranTarun.com February 16, 2012 at 3:13 am

Ah, the issues of our society — gender stereotypes. While I agree with evertyhing you’ve mentioned about gents in our religion (sad, but true), the saddest scenario unimaginable is being forced to hide behind their veils, oppressed until death. So sad :(

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I agree, in a way it’s also forcing individuals to hide their identity period!

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Tracy's Treats February 16, 2012 at 6:28 am

I heard about that book, and have wanted to read it since! I’ve always been really intrigued by the Arab culture, and the book seems like it would let you into that world. However, I’m sure some of it is exaggerated or embellished for drama, and certainly not ALL women in those countries have the same viewpoint as the one from the book. It looks interesting though!

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm

If you want to learn about Arab culture I’m not sure this is the best thing to read as like you said, there is a high probability that there’s a bit of exaggeration or embellishment. Nonetheless it was an interesting read!

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jojo February 16, 2012 at 7:22 am

Sounds like the book got you hooked! I definitely want to give the book a try, maybe during my quarter break..
Whenever I come acros real life stories or News about unfair things happening all over the world, I am thankful that I have the privileges I have, my family is healthy and happy for the most part!

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm

It doesn’t take much for us to realise what matters most in life (family, health, and happiness as you said)!

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Allison (Allison's Delicious Life) February 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

This is exactly the kind of book I like. Thank you for the rec!

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Hope you enjoy it!

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Alyse February 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I feel so lucky to have the same privileges that you mentioned – freedom to marry whomever I choose, to chase my professional dreams as far as possible, to wear short skirts if I want to.

My hope is that everyone, men and women alike, will someday be free to do as they wish (as long as it’s not hurting others, of course).

I love experiences that remind us of what we have to be grateful for. Whether or not the depictions in the book are true, as some commenters have noted, there is the benefit of feeling grateful for what you have.

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Exactly! Even if readers aren’t given the complete truth from the book, at least they can get a sense of gratitude.

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Errign February 16, 2012 at 8:21 pm

I really liked Animal, Vegetable, Miracle lately.

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Interesting title

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honeywhatscooking February 16, 2012 at 8:52 pm

That was one of my NY resolutions too, unfortunately, i haven’t even picked up a book since god knows when. Doesn’t reading blogs count as reading? hahah. I don’ tknow how to balance it all.. working fulltime, reading blogs, working on my own, and being married. and cooking/baking. :-)

I absolutely love that quote.. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Haha if reading blogs counted, I would have more than surpassed my reading goal for the year!

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Ameena February 16, 2012 at 9:23 pm

So glad you liked this book as much as me. It truly was an eye opener and after reading it I went out and purchased all of Sasson’s other books. Amazingly written. Shocking. Inspiring. I could go on and on!

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Were the rest of her books as good? If I’m not mistaken, there’s a book about the life her daughters went on to live.

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goodformegirl February 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Your perspective is so interesting to hear, esp. being from the U.S. I love that Steineman quote, too (well put!).

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I’m glad you appreciated it- even though I’ve lived abroad for most of my life, many of my values are still Indian-based.

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Christina Does It All February 17, 2012 at 7:23 am

It was a resolution of mine to read more books…started out strong but I’ve been failing lately! I think you’ve re-inspired me! :D

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I want to read as much as I can before the motivation starts to wane…that way I won’t feel bad when it does ;) !

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Sig February 17, 2012 at 9:08 am

I think I read this a long while back and was intrigued and horrified by the tellings in the story. To be honest, a lot of the crimes against women in countries like this and India for example are more cultural rather than based in the true meaning of the religion. People have twisted religion to give basis to their cultural restrictions and often it’s the women who lose out.

Funny that.

I was brought up in Australia and never really experienced the obvious ‘boys are better than girls’ thing BUT was discriminated against in a much more subtle way that I didn’t even realise that it wasn’t normal until I started questioning it (e.g. the whole concept of honour/izzat, not being allowed to pray while I had my period, the double standards between men and women like men eating first etc)

Possibly also because I never gave a shit to cultural norms/traditions anyways, but I AM grateful for what many women would consider to be a privilege and I’ve just taken it for granted :P

A great blog that talks about the ‘modern’ issues facing Indian women today and bringing to light women’s issues there – http://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/

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Khushboo Thadani February 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm

“People have twisted religion to give basis to their cultural restrictions and often it’s the women who lose out”–> I couldn’t agree more. It’s sad when actions are due to twisted interpretations of various scriptures. Thanks for the blog mention- I’m sure it will be a great read!

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