It’s been a while since I read a book that I could not put down but Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson was so gripping that I finished it in a matter of days.
A book equally as fascinating as it was disturbing, it tells the true story of a defiant Saudi Arabian princess the author calls Sultana who lives a life of fabulous wealth while imprisoned by the men in her life, valued only as a bearer of sons. A genuine autobiography, the story is told by Sultana through the words of the author in order to protect the princess’ identity. The book documents the reality of life for Saudi Arabian royalties, revealing barbaric traditions. suffocating rules, and shocking depravity aimed to control women, who during the time in this country had zero rights, treated as mere property by their fathers, husbands, and even sons. The oppressions women endured in this country range from simple breaches of basic rights, such as being able to drive a car or travel without written permission, as well as the freedom to control their own lives, with many young girls denied education while being forced to marry men triple or even quadruple their age, as a third or fourth wife, which often led to a life of merciless abuse and confinement. But that’s not where the injustices end. At times this novel was difficult to get through, describing in detail stories of sickening cruelty: fathers drowning their daughters in the family pool, sexual enslavement of foreign workers, and heart-wrenching accounts of rape and domestic violence. Hypocritically, women who act out were sentenced to the harshest of punishments, such as getting stoned to death by their own families. One tragic story that stuck out to me was that of a 22-year-old Saudi princess was sentenced to a lifetime in a pitch black prison cell with no interaction with other humans. She would live out the rest of her life in darkness, never again hearing a human voice. Her crime? She fell in love with an American.
The book is a bit dated, I’ve read that Saudi Arabia has since progressed and opened itself up to modernization, especially under the current king. I am also aware that Sultana’s story does not apply to all women in Saudi Arabia, and that not all Saudi men treat women so appallingly. But unfortunately injustices for women do still exist, not just in Saudi Arabia, but in many other countries around the world. After reading this book it seems silly to me that women fuss over petty inequalities in America when there are women out there who are truly oppressed and need our help.
It is worth noting that Sultana never blames Islam for her suffering. Because Saudi Arabia is ruled by Islamic law, it would be easy to link the abuse and oppression to the religion, but Sultana clearly demonstrates how it is a cultural problem, not religious. In fact, throughout the novel Sultana shows the upmost respect for Islam, often drawing the strength she needs to survive from her religion. She suggests that the men who mistreated her did not do so in the name of religion, but rather used to Koran as a tool to justify their evil ways. Sultana does not even suggest that the Saudi men were following a misinterpretation the Koran as one would think, but rather that they created their own self-serving interpretation.
Princess was an eye-opening book, not to just to the oppression of Saudi Arabia’s royal women, but on a larger scale. It’s alarming to see how an entire country can become so accepting of their depraved culture to the point where they are actually blind to the disgusting injustices they have created, carrying on with what seems to be absolute inertia. It makes me wonder what injustices I have become blind to in my own culture.