nonfiction

Daughters of Arabia by Jean Sasson. Welcome again to the world of selfish Princess Sultana

Here we are again in the world of Princess Sultana. In Daughters of Arabia Sultana shifted the focus from brutal treatment of women to the lives of her children: Abdullah, Maha and Amani. Through their lives we understand how the atrocities on women determine choices and preferences of girls in Saudi Arabia.

Although Maha was loved by her parents, she experienced discrimiarabianation in the world outside the wall. In consequence of restrictions on women and lack of freedom of speech, Maha suffered mental breakdown. She could not accept the inferior position of women and brutality of men. Sultana and Kareem decided that Maha should undergo treatment at mental institution in London, where other Saudi women used to seek help. Apparently there were more women who were unable to bear their lives in Saudi Arabia. Eventually, Maha revealed to her doctor that “men were her enemies, and that women were her friends”. In other words, Maha and her best friend, Aisha, were lovers. The question Maha asked Sultana illustrates what was bothering that young girl: “how can I ever love a man, knowing all that I know of their nature?”

Amani had been perfect child till she started to expose fanatical behaviours. Sultana and Kareem were terrified with Amani’s fanatism but in fact they did nothing to stop it. Their daughter continued to meet with her religious friends and discuss overthrowing the King. Amani’s preferences show that she went from one extreme to another. She loved animals very much so her parents organized small zoo in their garden to make her happy. Then during Haj to Makkah, religious atmosphere changed her perception of faith and she embraced extremist convictions.

The son of Sultana, Abdullah, was nothing like most of Saudi boys. He believed in freedom and equality of women. Moreover, he helped his friend to escape with beloved girlfriend. He claimed that he ‘administered justice’ by helping two people who wanted to spend life together.

Sultana’s husband, Kareem, became even more progressive and open- minded than he had been before. He loved his two daughters as much as he loved his son, which is not common among Saudi men. He was also very understanding and patient with Sultana, but when she crossed the line he told her that in some day she would be ‘committed to an institution for the insane’.

I would like to focus more on Sultana, who again proved to be spoiled princess that saw only hub of her nose. She never took responsibility for her actions, arguing that men were to blame for her problems. To be honest, after getting through Daughters of Arabia there was nothing that I liked about Sultana. How somebody could feel sympathy for her? She only cared about expensive jewels and she had no consideration for people around her. Her laughing like insane when two men died in Makkah, and treating her cousin with mace to protect her necklace illustrate what kind of person Sultana was. When daughter of Kareem’s business partner escaped with ‘penniless’ Palestinian refugee, traumatised Sultana asked Kareem: ‘How did this happen?’ Moreover, Sultana got terrified by thought that Amani would sell her jewels and donate all money for the need. Sultana claimed that they were generous enough and she did not see what else she could do. She felt ‘depressed and unappreciated’ and was wondering about Amani: ‘…was her true desire to turn our family into beggars, like those who had benefited from our great wealth?’ Apparently according to Sultana, her life would take a turn for worse because of loss of a few millions. Regardless my feelings about Sultana, I feel compassion for women she described.

Another problem with Sultana was that she continued to talk about herself as an advocate for women’s rights, as somebody who was actively working to change women’s existence. Sultana claimed to fight against atrocities on women: ‘I had struggle diligently against from the moment of understanding’. Neither Princess nor Daughters of Arabia provide evidences of Sultana’s struggle.

Blindness of Sultana on the royal family and the King’s rule was simply ridiculous in this book. Sultana claimed that Saudi King did not have options to advance and change his country, that the King could not do anything without consent of Saudi clerics. She praised men of royal family because they provided substantial lifestyle to ordinary Saudi citizens. Sultana also claimed that:  ‘Many people, Muslims and Christians alike, despise Saudi for their unearned wealth’. In my humble opinion, there is nothing to be jealous of… At some moment, I simply could not stand her unbelievable ignorance.

I noticed a few inconsistencies in this book. First, Sultana said that Kareem was unable to commit violence. However, in Princess she described how Kareem hit her in her face while she was fighting with his mother. Second, when the family found out about her book, Kareem was outraged that Sultana revealed the story of his ‘weekly adventure of sex with strangers’ and venereal disease. In the version of Princess that I have there was not thread like that. Third, while Abdullah was the eldest child, at the end of the book Sultana said that Maha was the eldest one.

In overall, I must acknowledge that Daughters of Arabia is fascinating book and reading it was a great pleasure. While Princess made me cry and deprived of sleep, Daughters of Arabia made me laugh. The story is written in highly readable and enjoyable manner. For non-native speaker like me, the book is very approachable

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5 thoughts on “Daughters of Arabia by Jean Sasson. Welcome again to the world of selfish Princess Sultana

  1. Thank you for you comment! I read all three books because I had some expectations after reading Princess. And now, I feel a bit disappointed. Probably I won’t pick up other books written by Sasson.

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  2. “Second, when the family found out about her book, Kareem was outraged that Sultana revealed the story of his ‘weekly adventure of sex with strangers’ and venereal disease. In the version of Princess that I have there was not thread like that” – the venereal sex bit.

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