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Jean Sasson "Princess"


From Kirkus Reviews
Sasson ("The Rape of Kuwait") brings us `Princess,'' a pseudonymous member of the Saudi royal family whose memoir documents the suffocating sexism that pervades Saudi life. From minute one, Sultana got the message that only men mattered. Her father had three wives in addition to her mother; her brother, Ali, had sovereignty over his ten sisters. Sultana, we learn, crafted constant rebellions, from smashing Ali's Rolex to leaving his pornographic slides--on which he'd printed his name--at the local mosque for the religious police to find. Arranged marriages were the norm: Sultana was lucky in being matched with a liberal, distant cousin (she was also lucky in being spared the common practice of ritual genital mutilation). She had children, battled her husband, and was thrilled during the Gulf War by reports of the 47 Saudi women who bucked the law and drove in the streets of Riyadh (although rumors persist that one of the group was put to death by her father). But Sasson's device of telling Sultana's story in the first person trivializes the princess's important material. Her voice echoes that of a pulp-fiction heroine (``I was drowning in Kareem's eyes...''), and the endless vignettes of her feistiness--especially the incident of her brother's pornography--verge on incredible. But when Sultana stops talking about herself and takes time to observe, we get amazing details: of Saudi wealth (British interior decorators were imported to redo Sultana's suite on the maternity ward), and of cultural brutality (one friend, caught propositioning foreigners, was drowned by her father in the family swimming pool; another, in punishment for having an affair with a Westerner, was confined to a darkened room for life). Worth paging past the trivial, then, to absorb a chilling and enraging portrait of women's absolute powerlessness in Saudi society.

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