Mina's Reviews > Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia

Princess by Jean Sasson
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's review
Aug 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: read-in-the-past, fav-in-the-past
Read in November, 2003

I first read this as a young teen, and took it then as what it presents itself to be - one person's true story of her life. Over time I've realized that it's decidedly more crafted than unvarnished truth, and there are some things about its tone that bother me in ways I can't articulate, mostly related to Sasson's role as mediator of "Sultana"'s perspective. I want to say that regardless of the 'truth' of the events, this is a good read with a haunting story and engaging characters. But I can't actually disregard that there is likely some truth to the events, that the experiences of real people are at the heart of the story, and that while this specific narrative might not exactly match anyone's real life experience, similar kinds of things have happened and continue to happen - and not just in Saudi Arabia. This book forces you to acknowledge - and encourages you to grapple with - unpleasant realities of human nature and of differing contexts of human experience. If you're not alienated by the narrator - both the pseudo-voice of Sultana and the underlying voice of Sasson are sometimes hard to take for various reasons - the story is gripping and emotionally resonant. It makes you hurt and it makes you angry and it makes you think, and for me it was definitely worth reading. I'm reluctant to issue a blanket recommendation, though, because this is a book with complicated politics. It may open your eyes to things you never knew about, or it may condescend to you with its protagonist's sometimes too-naive and too-black-and-white understanding of her life. You may walk away from it feeling only disheartened about "the plight of Saudi women," as that seems to be exactly what the author and marketers intended. However I think you need to be more critical than that, and the book's tone may make that difficult. It seems to want you to feel nothing but pity for Sultana and all Saudi women. While it's true that the problems exposed in this book should not be glossed over in any way, it's also true that there's more to Saudi life than what is presented here. With its simplified narrative and emotion-grabbing approach, this book may be helpful to raise awareness and empathy in people from the West or otherwise different cultural contexts, but it's not nuanced enough to be taken as a balanced education. Don't pity Sultana for her lot; respect her for trying to negotiate a place for herself in a constrained world, and understand that though she and others suffer for their gender because of societal context, they are people, complexly human and not just 'victims' or sad characters.

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