FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/5
“I was born free, yet today I am in chains. Invisible, they were loosely draped and passed unnoticed until the age of understanding reduced my life to a narrow segment of fear.”
–Jean Sasson, Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia
I am a huge fan of memoirs and biographies of strong-willed and determined women. In recent years, I have had the chance to read some extraordinary biographies that have inspired me to not just make the most of my circumstances but also taught me to never give up.
Small incremental changes act as catalysts for major transformations and the story of Princess Sultana, the Saudi Arabian royal is written in the same spirit. In this review, I tell you why I strongly recommend the book Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia to all lovers of biographies and memoirs.
What to expect?
Expect a book that offers you a brutally honest sneak peek into the lives of the Saudi Arabian royals. Expect a book that exposes the harsh realities of an unjust patriarchal system that treats its women as second-grade citizens with no free will of their own. Expect a book that also gives you a brief idea of Saudi Arabia’s historical, cultural, and political background. Finally, expect a book that is honest and sincere, and that vehemently calls for a transformational change.
Who can read?
The book is written in a simple language and style, and as such, it can be easily read by beginner-level readers. Other readers would enjoy it too, if not for the language and narrative style, then definitely for the unbelievable content.
What is the book all about?
Sultana (name changed to conceal identity) is a Saudi Arabian princess closely related to the erstwhile Saudi King. Born into a family of ultra-rich Arabs, Sultana’s wealth knows no bounds. Multiple mansions in multiple continents, a bedazzling collection of precious jewelry, private family jets, designer dresses, and an army of servants to do her bidding at all times – this is Sultana’s world. However, her life is a gilded cage, for she, much like all other women of the royal family, has no free will.
As the readers will find out, women in the royal Saudi society exist for only two reasons – 1) as objects of sexual gratification for their husbands and 2) as vehicles to bear more sons to the family. The birth of a girl child is frowned upon, while that of a son is celebrated with much pomp and show.
This is the story of Sultana and every other woman in the Saudi royal society whose life is perpetually controlled and managed by the men of her family – fathers, brothers, husbands, and eventually sons.
The writing style is simple and uncomplicated
To not take away the focus from the seriousness of the issues, the writing is kept simple and mostly chronological. Sultana starts from her childhood, moving on to her early years as a young adult, her marriage, and subsequently her adulthood.
The harsh realities and brutal truths
Sultana not just narrates the harsh realities of her own life but also of other royal women. She talks about her mother and aunts, her sisters, and her friends. She speaks of their miseries and the absolute horrors that these women have been witness to in their life. She also goes a step ahead and narrates to us, tales of the unspeakable horrors that Saudis tend to commit to people from other poorer nations. Be it poor Filipino maids or desperate Egyptian mothers, slave traded Sudanese or stolen Lebanese children, the book tells us enough horror stories to last a lifetime.
A crash course in history and politics
Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia does a good job of informing the readers about the basic history, politics, and culture of the place – how the kingdom came to be, how the dynasty of Al Sauds flourished, the economic and social factors at play, the role of religious mutawas, the then political scenario, the ultra-luxurious and decadent royal lifestyle, the limitless wealth are some of the things that the book acquaints us with.
An important thing to note
While reading the book, one should keep in mind that it was first published in the year 1992. In that sense, it speaks of an era in the past. While does attempts to portray the realities of the 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990s, it would not be wise to consider the book as an apt reflection of the present times.
Is the book interesting to read?
There is never a dull moment in the book. The writing style and the language are deliberately kept simple to not distract the reader from the disturbing and haunting details that the book narrates. Because it talks of a land and culture so alien from ours, an exploration into the most innermost circles of Saudi royal society is both alluring and captivating.
In the end
In the end, Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia serves as an eye-opener for many who have no idea of the lives of Saudi royal women. It is a book that must be read because the first step towards any transformational change would only come from knowledge. Thus, acknowledgment of the issues that plague the royal women of Saudi Arabia is a must.
The final verdict
Just go for it!
Pick the book if
- You enjoy nonfiction.
- You love reading biography and memoirs.
- You are looking for an eye-opening read.
- You are looking for a book set in the Middle East.
- The idea of a book about the discreet and suppressive lives of Saudi women appeals to you.
Skip the book if
- You don’t like memoirs/biographies/nonfiction
- You are a regular or voracious reader.
- You are a 5-star entertainer.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia using the link below