Nothing makes me happier than buying books for low prices. There are only a few places where you can purchase cheap books in Dubai. One of my favourite places is House of Prose, a second-hand bookstore, where I bought Princess…a book that you can see in every bookstore around the city.
Through Jean Sasson, Sultana, a member of Saudi Arabian royal family, tells about shocking life behind the vail. She speaks about her own life and experiences of other Saudi women… stories of women glittering with jewels, living in luxury palaces with tens of servants. However, unbelievable wealth is just a cover for lack of freedom and total submission to men. Women are prisoners of their fathers and brothers, and then of their husbands. Women do not have a right to express their opinions, to work, or to leave the country without ‘master’s permission.
Without a doubt, the book is heart- wrenching and those who are very sensitive will find it difficult to process. Description of appalling oppression against women deprives of sleep and makes you wonder how is it possible that there are still places where men are heartless monsters. Reading about forced marriages, sex slavery, honour killings and other barbarities against women made me appreciate the place that I was born and raised. Unfortunately, there are millions of women out there who are totally at the mercy of the men in their life. For instance, what happened to Sultana’s sister, Sara, is so heart-breaking that you want to scream and shout! Sara was a beautiful and exceptionally bright girl. She dreamt about studying art in Italy and opening art gallery in Jeddah. However, Sara’s dreams never came true because her father, ‘the decision- maker in all matters’, chose rich sixty- two years old prick to marry her. Five weeks after wedding, Sara attempted suicide which was the only escape from her husband’s sexual brutality.
Sultana tells also about her friends, who were severely punished for their actions. Nadia and Wafa decided to ‘taste any aspect of life’ until the day they would be married to old men. Their ‘adventures’ with foreign men had dramatic consequences. Wafa was married to an old Bedouin mutawa, while Nadia was drowned by her father in family’s swimming pool. You will become speechless after reading the chapter on Sameera who was confined to The Woman’ Room- room of darkness.
While many girls in Sultana’s world were sold to old men and suffered physical and psychological violence, she married a man of similar age and was allowed to meet him before the wedding. Indeed, Sultana was the lucky one; she and her husband fell in love with each other and had three kids together. They led a happy life, until Kareem decided to take a second wife. Sultana escaped with her kids and millions of dollars to Europe. Until the end, I thought she would start a new life faraway from Saudi Arabia’s suppression and injustice… but she came back with Kareem who promised not to take second wife. With her own will she came back to the cage… For the first time she could control her life, give her children freedom and dignity, but the only thing she really wanted was to make sure her husband would not take a second wife (!!!). Was she really so naïve to believe that Kareem would be loyal to her because of signed documents? Did she forget about her father and Ali’s trips, for example, to Thailand? Apparently, she could not accept more wives but she would be fine with one night stands of her husband.
Sultana’s struggle for fatherly love was heart-breaking. Suffering due to lack of her father’s attention and love is visible through the whole book. While Ali, the only son, was valuable for her merciless father, ten daughters were simply ignored and treated like a burden. As Sultana put it, she spent her childhood trying to win her father’s affection. The following words illustrate it well: ‘I calculated that if my father looked at me enough time he would recognize my special traits and come to love his daughter, even as he loved Ali. As it turned out, my rowdy ways ensured that he would go from indifference to open dislike’.
There is one basic problem with Sultana, in my opinion. The synopsis says that Sultana was ‘a woman of indomitable spirit and great courage’. Indeed, she always had a courage to get what she wanted. The only person she cared about was herself. From the very beginning of the book Sultana was telling about discrimination, lack of freedom and few possibilities of change for Saudi woman. The question arises, what did wealthy and courageous Sultana do to change other women’s existence? Her palace was full of Filipino maids and Sudanese slaves, who worked seven days a week to make Sultana happy. One of her necklaces would change lives of many Filipina maids. Apparently, Saudi women are worth more than other women.
Nevertheless, I like that author included humours stories in this book too. Without a doubt, Sultana’s endless war with her brother Ali will make you smile.
What I liked the most was very readable writing style. You need one evening to go through this book.
Many people claim that this is not a true story. I think it does not matter because the book shows the stories that in fact are well known. Sultana does not need to be a real person because the book illustrates perceptions of many Saudi women.
I strongly recommend this book to everyone who is interested in life in Saudi Arabia and violations of human rights. Princess will move you to tears and you will never forget dramatic experiences of Saudi woman.