I just finished Girls of Riyadh this evening. It is the first novel from 25-year old Rajaa Alsanea. The book's fifty chapters are written as email installments, sent out weekly from a mysterious author to subscribers around Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East. (A sort of Gulf "Gossip Girl," perhaps?) The book focuses on the lives of four young, upper-class Saudi women. Girls apparently created as big of a scandal in the Arab world as the fictional emails do in the book!
This book was fascinating. Though fictionalized, the author's accounts are kept as realistic as possible. The revelation of the usually-secluded lives of women there adds considerable intrigue. I felt as if I were reading private information! Not only that, but the culture and value systems are so different from the ones with which I am familiar.
For instance, marriages are arranged by [hopefully] well-meaning family members. Before signing the marriage contract, the couple are allowed to meet in person only once. It is no wonder that the trendy engagement gifts, then, are cellphones!
I highly recommend this book. It is fascinating, and enlightening. It is filled with everything from verses of the Qur'an to lyrics of Saudi pop songs. The characters are engaging and likable. Although I may be far from them geographically and culturally, I was able to see the universal nature of the human experience shine through. We all want to be successful, happy, and loved. These girls are no different.