Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia – Jean Sasson

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There’s another “WOW” coming at you! Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia (here after referred to as Princess, because that is much too long to type out every time) by Jean Sasson was wonderful. Jean Sasson wrote the story, but the story belongs to Princess Sultana, it is the story of her life. I haven’t decided if it is really a true story yet, as I’ve found fault with the premise. But we’ll get to that.

I bought Princess at Value Village, which if you don’t have those in your hometown are thrift stores that take in donations collected by a variety of charities and then sell the donations for cheap, cheap, cheap! The charities get paid by Value Village for providing them with merchandise, and the consumers get low price merchandise. My friend Carlene and I went a couple weeks ago, and bought seven books for $25. I couldn’t buy 2 books for that much at Chapters. Not that I don’t love Chapters, because I do. But it’s nice to have a budget break every once in a while. Once I started reading Princess, I couldn’t put it down. I finished reading it two days ago, then I gave it to my sister to read who spent all day reading it and finished last night. Safe to say, it is a great book.

If you take Princess at face value, it is a marvelous memoir of a Saudi Arabian princess living the life of luxury, yet still oppressed and unfulfilled. Princess Sultana (names were changed to protect the characters’ identities) is luckier than the majority of women in Saudi Arabia. She is a royal, which protects her from most punishments she could have received during her rebellious acts. Sultana is the baby of the family, bullied by her older brother and adored by her older sisters. According to Princess, in the Saudi culture men are considered far superior to women. When Sultana fights back against her domineering brother, her father decides to teach Sultana a lesson…

“To teach me that men were my masters, my father decreed that Ali would have the exclusive right to fill my plate at mealtimes. The triumphant Ali gave me the tiniest portions and the worst cuts of meat. Each night, I went to sleep hungry, for Ali placed a guard at my door and ordered him to forbid me to receive food from my mother or my sisters.”

Sultana tells stories of women being stoned to death, or locked in a “women’s room” in total solitude for the rest of their lives, or drowned in the family pool for dishonouring their family. Women are forced to wear constrictive robes, head coverings, and veils that completely cover their face and eyes. Now, this is part of the Muslim religion, so I can respect that. However, the senseless violence that takes place against women for behaving in ways that Western women take for granted is something I have a problem with.

Princess opened my eyes to so many issues Saudi women as well as women all over the world are facing in regards to their rights as people. Even here in Canada, there are issues women face on a daily basis. No where near as horrible as being stoned to death or Female Genital Mutilation (female circumcision) which is an awful practice, by the way. If you’re really interested, it’s a terrible custom that is carried out in many Islamic cultures, as well as many non-Islamic cultures in Africa. Even when done “professionally”, it leaves the women scarred and can be the cause of life long pain and suffering.  There are four main types, ranging from least to most severe, and all of them are unnecessary. Sorry for the rant, I’m a biology student and learned about FGM in a Human Reproduction class, so it was exciting to be able to actually use the knowledge I learned in school. You can read more here.

As two of my favourite writers point out, women are people just as much as men are. George R.R. Martin (author of A Song of Ice and Fire (the Game of Thrones books)) was interviewed by George Strombolopolous, and George asked why he wrote his female characters so differently from other writers. George R.R. Martin responded with “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” And when Joss Whedon (creator/writer of Firefly and Serenity, writer of The Avengers and other assorted Marvel shows/movies, and creator/writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among other things) was asked why he writes so many strong female characters, he responded with “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Yes, gentlemen. Yes. Keep doing what you’re doing.

The point is, this book is phenomenal. It is so important for people to read. I would recommend it to anyone who considers themselves a feminist, who believes in womens’ rights, who considers women people, who wants to learn more about the struggle of women in oppressive cultures, or who is a person. It is that good. However, I did struggle with just how much of the book I should take as true events.

My issue is how did the Saudi Arabian government and people not discover who Princess Sultana is? Although the names were changed, the events that took place were laid out in great detail. Princess Sultana would be easily identifiable to those who knew her, including her royal family and the King. Would she not be found out and be punished? Although in the book, Princess Sultana mentions many times how the royal family likes to keep scandals within family walls, one would think that if the identity of Princess Sultana was somehow learned, the world would hear about it. To add to the controversy behind Sasson’s book, she was caught in the middle of a lawsuit when a woman claimed Sasson stole the idea for the book from her. Sasson and another author the woman claims plagiarized her work are claiming the woman is a stalker and has made threats towards the two authors and their families. I’ll leave the rest for you to read about if you feel so inclined.

That’s all I have for today! See you next time, have a superb week!

Oh, P.S. Sasson has written two other books about Princess Sultana, Princess Sultana’s Daughters and Princess Sultana’s Circle, as well as many other books about life in the middle east. Just in case you were interested in exploring Princess Sultana’s world a little more.

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