Saudi Arabia

Daring to Drive

Note: After most of the book club had finished reading this book, we found out that it was actually ghostwritten by an American. This is the first book to our knowledge included in our global list which falls into this category & is normally not a book we'd read. However, since it was the book read for the month & then discussed, we've included it here. To read books by a Saudi author, we recommend any of the other 5 on our Saudi book list.

"A ferociously intimate memoir by a devout woman from a modest family in Saudi Arabia who became the unexpected leader of a courageous movement to support women’s right to drive.

Manal al-Sharif grew up in Mecca the second daughter of a taxi driver, born the year fundamentalism took hold. In her adolescence, she was a religious radical, melting her brother’s boy band cassettes in the oven because music was haram: forbidden by Islamic law. But what a difference an education can make. By her twenties she was a computer security engineer, one of few women working in a desert compound that resembled suburban America. That’s when the Saudi kingdom’s contradictions became too much to bear: she was labeled a slut for chatting with male colleagues, her teenage brother chaperoned her on a business trip, and while she kept a car in her garage, she was forbidden from driving down city streets behind the wheel.

Daring to Drive is the fiercely intimate memoir of an accidental activist, a powerfully vivid story of a young Muslim woman who stood up to a kingdom of men—and won. Writing on the cusp of history, Manal offers a rare glimpse into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia today. Her memoir is a remarkable celebration of resilience in the face of tyranny, the extraordinary power of education and female solidarity, and the difficulties, absurdities, and joys of making your voice heard."

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1000 Lashes

"'Badawi’s writings are refreshing ...This slim, but fascinating and informative volume clearly brings home the consequences of our benign neglect of the Saudi totalitarian situation.' - Library Journal

'Raif Badawi's is an important voice for all of us to hear.' - Salman Rushdie

Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, shared his thoughts on politics, religion, and liberalism online. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, ten years in prison, and a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyal, over a quarter of a million U.S. dollars. This politically topical polemic gathers together Badawi’s pivotal texts. He expresses his opinions on life in an autocratic-Islamic state under the Sharia and his perception of freedom of expression, human and civil rights, tolerance and the necessary separation of state and religion."

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Girls of Riyadh

"Framed as a series of e-mails sent to the subscribers of an Internet group, the story follows an unnamed narrator who recounts the misadventures of her best friends—all fashionable, educated, wealthy 20-somethings looking for true love. Their world is dominated by prayer, family loyalty and physical modesty, but the voracious consumption of luxury goods and yearnings for female empowerment are also part of the package. 

When Rajaa Alsanea boldly chose to open up the hidden world of Saudi women—their private lives and their conflicts with the traditions of their culture—she caused a sensation across the Arab world. Now in English, Alsanea’s tale of the personal struggles of four young upper-class women offers Westerners an unprecedented glimpse into a society often veiled from view. Living in restrictive Riyadh but traveling all over the globe, these modern Saudi women literally and figuratively shed traditional garb as they search for love, fulfillment, and their place somewhere in between Western society and their Islamic home."

(A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani for the suggestion.)

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HWJN (aka Hawjan)

HWJN or Hawjan as it's sometimes known was the #1 selling Saudi novel in until it was banned for blasphemy. 

The Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue & Prevention of Vice raided bookshops pulling the book from the shelves because it treats jinn as beings that co-exist with humanity, & tells of a romance between a human & a jinn. (In Arabian mythology, a jinn is an intelligent spirit of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in human & animal forms & to possess humans.) Translated into other languages, the book has become a favorite around the world & is now again available for purchase in Saudi Arabia.

"People often listen to the legends of spirits and genies (jinn) with awe and horror, but this story is different and redefines our understanding of the jinn world. Hawjan is a young jinni is in his early nineties who lives in a world which exists parallel to ours. As human populations expand, Hawjan and his family find their village invaded by the parallel human dimension forcing them to live in a villa now haunted by humans. Hawjan’s efforts to avoid the human family fail and he finds himself madly in love with Sawsan, a medical student who is gentle and brilliant...but also barely a quarter of his age and human. 

Living in a different dimension, Hawjan is unable to let Sawsan know about his feelings until he learns how to communicate with her through the Ouija board. He then discovers she has brain cancer. As Sawsan's health deteriorates, her father becomes easy prey for a sorcerer who tricks him into believing that Sawsan’s illness is the result of the "devils" who haunt their villa. A deadly battle ensues. Eyad, a colleague of Sawsan agrees to allow Hawjan to posses him in order to help save Sawsan & her family. But who will win?"

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Munira's Bottle

"In Riyadh, against the events of the second Gulf War and Saddams invasion of Kuwait, we learn the story of Munira with the gorgeous eyes and the unspeakable tragedy she suffers as her male nemesis wreaks revenge for an insult to his character and manhood. It is also the tale of many other women of Saudi Arabia who pass through the remand center where Munira works, victims and perpetrators of crimes, characters pained and tormented, trapped in cocoons of silence and fear. Munira records their stories on pieces of paper that she folds up and places in the mysterious bottle given to her long ago by her grandmother, a repository for the stories of the dead, that they might live again.

This controversial novel looks at many of the issues that characterize the lives of women in modern Saudi society, including magic and envy, honor and revenge, and the strict moral code that dictates male/female interaction. Yousef al-Mohaimeed is a rising star in international literature. Munira's Bottle is a rich and skillfully crafted story of a dysfunctional Saudi Arabian family. One of its strengths lies in its edgy characters: Munira, a sultry, self-centered, sexually repressed woman; Ibn al-Dahhal, the bold imposter who deceives and betrays her; and Muhammad, her perpetually angry and righteous brother, a catalyst who forces the events. Western readers will welcome it for its opening door into Arab lives and minds."

(A special thank you to book club member, Neha Mehta for the suggestion.)

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The Ruins of Us

"'An intelligent, complex story of interfaith marriage...That balances nail-biting tension with lyrical intent." - The Guardian

Saudi-born author Keija Parssinen’s stunning debut offers the intricate, emotionally resonant story of an American expatriate named Rosie who discovers that her husband, a Saudi billionaire, has taken a second bride—an emotionally turbulent revelation that blinds them both to their teenaged son’s ominous first steps down the road of radicalization. Readers of The Septembers of Shiraz will be captivated by Parssinen’s story of love and betrayal, fundamentalism, family and country in the Middle East. Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead, hails Parssinen’s characters as “richly conceived, and her evocative petrol universe of wealth, privilege, and intrigue is unforgettable,” characterizing The Ruins of Us as having “powerful storytelling that is refreshing and entertaining."

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