Princess: A true story of life behind the veil in Saudi Arabia [Jean P. Sasson]

Author: Jean P. Sasson (1992)
Publisher: Bantam Books 1993
Edition: Paperback
Category: True story/Biography
ISBN: 0-553-40570-5

Sultana Al’Saud is one of the many Saudi princesses. Her grandfather is King Saud, whose father was the Great King Abdul Aziz. Being the granddaughter of the King doesn’t necessarily mean she has a close relationship with the King, apart from bloodline. Sultana is just one of the many grandchildren the King has from many children, from many wives. Don’t expect that her life would be similar with princesses from other kingdoms that we usually see on the celebrity gossip magazines.

Women position is lower than men in Saudi Arabia which applies Islam full laws. Saudi women are valueless in their society. While being caged in luxurious mansions and covered in expensive veils and robes, their life and destiny are controlled by their fathers, their husbands even their sons. Readers of the book must be open-minded when reading the book, because there are plenty of human rights issues that may cause controversies, while the story itself was based on real characters of a real culture.

It was quite hard even for me to not being judgmental, but I am sure the motive for Sultana to share her stories with Sasson is to let the world know about the inner-side of her country, her kingdom, and perhaps she was seeking for help. It is very much understandable if we end up with some sort of ‘opinions’ about the culture, the people, after reading the book. Sultana didn’t do this for money, she is a Saudi princess. People should read the book to understand how much money involved in one Saudi family, especially in a prince family like Sultana’s father. Bountiful.

Sultana used to feel jealous with her father treatment towards Ali, her brother. Ali was treated like a small king in the house, thus his personality had grown to be ill-mannered and extremely selfish. He has no feeling when hurting his own sisters, and his friends even more evil than him. Once, Sultana got the chance to revenge her ill-charactered brother by crushing his new-given Rolex from their father and placing his pornography magazines at the mosque; the kind of move that is quite aggressive and impossible to think of for other Saudi girls. Ali got his punishments from their father plus the mosque elders for the shameful magazines, but he also got a new Rolex to replace the broken one.

Even though Sultana also experienced her father discrimination, Sultana may be luckier than any other Saudi women. Because of her strong personality, will and intelligence (that also gave her troubles sometimes), Sultana and her friends had the chance to do many things that other Saudi girls wouldn’t even dare to think about. I guess all that was forced by her hopelessness for an alteration on her culture, which she realised was impossible. Turning pages of the book, I was sometimes afraid that Sultana will got caught by the authorities because of her extreme behaviours and activities. Whatever she did in her teenager’s time did contribute to her happiness and sorrows on her later periods.

Sultana married a cousin who possessed a modern education and way-of-thinking, through an arranged marriage. The pair spent loads of loving years and times, before finally her husband asked her permission to marry another woman (as provoked by her mother-in-law) and her feeling and trust for him changed dramatically. I can understand her grief of being betrayed. All along she thought she has won at least one battle to initiate a role-model for Saudi marriages: to have a husband who only has one wife (the very same wish of any other normal woman). Sultana took her kids with private plane around the world and involved schemes to show her disagreement and to punish her husband.

As a woman myself, it is saddening to learn that Saudi women are being treated as such without able to “say no”; being sold to men through arranged weddings even though the bridegrooms may be far older and already have several wives; how female maids are raped and Saudi women must be circumcised so that they will never enjoy sexual interaction while, at the same time, Saudi men go to Bangkok brothels and spend their abundant money for enjoyments.

Two of Sultana’s friends were sent to death by their fathers because they unveiled themselves to foreign men. One of them was drowned in the family’s private pool and the other one was sent to a dark room as punishment. She died of the isolation. All these are part of Saudi women lives (and destiny, if I may add) and no one could change it because it is in their bloodlines, in their culture, society and it is in their laws. None of us could change it and we don’t have the right to do that. I honestly feel the desperation of Sultana for even a smallest change they could get.

This book is part of a Trilogy but I haven’t got the chance to buy and read the other two. The other two books are: Princess Sultana’s Daughter (1994) and Princess Sultana’s Circle (2000). While writing this review I do not hold the actual book, only relying on my memory. I read the book back in October 2004 and have left it in Jakarta (thanks to Smitha for the recommendation). Cover image was taken from the net, and the above information were taken from a similar book available on one bookstore downtown.


24 thoughts on “Princess: A true story of life behind the veil in Saudi Arabia [Jean P. Sasson]

  1. Good book…apalagi true story…, memang kehidupan wanita saudi itu kagak banyak pilihan….dan kejadian2 yg menimpa wanita saudi sudah banyak diberitakan di majalah/suratkabar maupun televisi. Bahkan ada juga tuh penyiar wanita Saudi…yg dipukul dan dianiaya suaminya , gara2 dia telp pada rekan cowok padahal telp masalah kerjaan…sampai2 masalah ini raja saudi katanya turun tangan. Salah satu teman saya bahkan anggota IC (saat ini sedang off), banyak bercerita ttg kebobrokan pria saudi dan pelecehan terhadap kaum wanitanya. Kapan yah di jaman modern begini….sistim yg masih primitif begini lenyap dari muka bumi. Ini bukan karena menyangkut hari Kartini saja…Hari Kartini bisa berlaku tiap hari bagi kamu wanita…pelecehan, merendahkan martabat wanita dll..seharusnya sudah dihapuskan jauh hari. Wanita adalah mahkluk ciptaan Tuhan yang sama kedudukannya dengan kaum pria di muka bumi ini, yang punya hati , perasaan, pikiran dan nurani.

    Gisela, France

  2. Interesting book…coba deh nanti saya liat2 di amazon :) btw..thanks ya udah mampir ke diary saya…dan emang bener di indonesia masih banyak anak baik kok :) termasuk kamu dan saya hehehe

    Mampir2 lagi yak ;)

  3. ANA says:

    I LOVE this book! I advice for anyone that wants to read this book make sure you have an open mind because you will get mad at all the sexism that happends in this book.


  5. ry says:

    I read Sultanas circle and it was very interesting. It’s sad that this is still happening in many countries besides Suadi Arabia. I grew up around catholic and muslim arabic families and even in america the women were still viewed as such. property of the males and they had to be submissive. I grew up around this so I do understand a little about the culture, but the book goes into detail of what it is really like out of america.

    • Paul says:

      Do not be mislead. It is ignorant to think that america is the only bastion of civilization in the world. In fact, Islam does NOT teach that women are possesions with no personal rights whatsoever. While this may be the case in saudi arabia it is not the case in Islam. Their veiws are a basis of deepseated culture and tradition and are not based on muslim beleifs. Whatever they are practicing, it is not Islam but a twisted conglomeration of desire, greed, and arrogance.

  6. ujina says:

    omg…this book was so damn intresting…i just cant believe how are ppl living there???…..i was scared to flip to the next page…itz quite a daring job to tell smbody about your life….and sultana did it….i really am looking for the other two books…^0^

  7. Juhi says:

    Its a superb book….!..
    I felt like reading it again, and again and again..!.
    Being a female I really feel so guilty being away from such a place and only trying to understand such treatment towards women and not even knowing whether I can help them.
    At the end of the book I cried bitter tears of guilt..

  8. chays says:

    This book is very interesting and heart touching about saudi women in their own land…i request everyone has to read this book…i found tears in my eyes while reading this book.. hats off to princess sultana for her boldness.
    Many thanks to Jean P. Sasson..

  9. dee says:

    its a book to move you to tears very good one would like to read about the other ones daughters of arabia

  10. Rieka Pranawati says:

    Aku udah baca buku pertamanya, dan sekarang sedang membaca buku yang kedue, sedangkan buku ketiga bakal nyusul dibaca nih.

    Jadi cewek arab khususnya Saudi, memang ada enak dan tidaknya. Yang gak enaknya : ya.. gak posisi dibawah cowok gitu, enaknya mereka harusnya bersyukur dekat dengan Baitullah alias bisa naik haji dan klo sholat majidil haram atau nabawi, kan pahalanya berlipat-lipat dibandingkan muslimah dari luar, itulah seharusnya mereka lebih bersyukur juga, gak perlu kerja alias tinggal ongkang2 kaki, shoping dan ke salon, tinggal patuh sama suami apa susanya sih… klo aku aja dinikahin sama pangeran Saudi.. wah senang sekaleee… hehehehe…

    Perempuan Saudi juga harus nya melihat kenapa para lelaki mereka cenderung keras dan kasar dengan mereka, lo.. soale peremepuan Saudi itu kan kasar juga orangnya. Liat aja tuh berita para TKW Indonesia dan dari negara lain disiksa dan dihina. Bagaimana kita bisa simpatik dengan mereka? bagaimana mereka berharap suami meeka lembut kepada mereka jika mereka sendiri tidak menghormati dan tidak lembut terhadap orang upahannya sendiri.

    Aku pengen deh klo bisa bicara dengan perempuan sana… pengennya..

  11. Rieka Pranawati says:

    I have 3 books of the title mentioned above and i am still reading the 2nd book now.

    I will not so emphatic with what happen to them there, cause I heard many of the maids have been beaten and insulted orally by them (wealthy women or from royal family). They think they can buy the whole world too. They dont respect other women who work with them so why they ask their husband to respect them while they cannot respect other women who work with them?

    They should be happy no need to work hard like some of other women in other world. They just need to serve their husband, their children, go for shopping or beauty salon any time they want, what else? They must be THANKS TO ALLAH for their easy life, while they get easy life, so what is a big deal just to obey their husband who has work hard for them and give them materials? Why they ask too much?

    I would like to give suggestion for Saudi women especially the princess in royal family. ” If you want to change your husbands, change yourself first?”.

    Regards and shokran geddan

  12. Jacob says:

    In Saudi Arabia women are like queens. Thier husband serve them and give them what they want.I am Saudi and I discuss with my wife even tiny matters.When she says no , I agree with her most of the time. We are adviced by profit Mohammad peace be upon him to take care about girls. He said that even in the days of his death. We obey him and we love our sisters,mother,wives and all women. I think the writer of these books should live in Saudi Arabia for some time to see and judge. Thanks

    (19/12) hi jacob, the writer of this book used to live as a princess in saudi arabia. the book is (said) written based on her experience.

    • Paul says:

      I agree with Jacob. Prophet Mohammad did try to teach equality towards both sexes in the family. In fact, there is even a hadith about the respect shown towards ones mother. A man asked Prophet Mohammad one day “Who should I hold in higher esteem on this earthly plane.” Prophet Mohammad answered “Your mother.” The man then questioned him further “Yes, and then who?” Once again Prophet Mohammad responded “Your Mother.” Again the man asked “Yes, and then who Mohammad?” Finally the Prophet responded “Your mother, and after you have showed her respect as for three times as much, then your father.” Like I stated earlier, whatever these men were following, it was not Islam.

  13. Jessica says:

    this book was sooooo good! it almost seemed to good to have been a real story. as i was reading this, i coulnt help but feel bad for these women, suffering in a world ruled by men. i strongly recomend it to any one considering reading it.

  14. sha says:

    This book is very interesting book. while reading this book i feel hate towards the saudi men & i,m proud about sulthana. and also feel sad about the asian women who served to middle east countries. think future world will better to all saudi women including dougters of sulthana.

  15. Mery A. says:

    Esta trilogia de la Sultana & Otros sobre su vida, como una historia de la vida real, me han dejado super fascinada. A la autora Jean Sasson, la felicito, me encantaria ver una foto de la peincesa Sultana, Me ha fascinado esta historia de la vida real y la familia inmediata de Sultana, como su marido Kareem, Abdulla, Amani y Maha. & otros como su hna Sara. Leer esta historia sacada de la vida real no ha hecho sino que me interese mas por este pais un tanto alejado de nosotros que vivimos en Norteamerica. Leer sus costumbre y/o religion es sumaente interesante. Excelente libro
    Mil felicidades, Jean Sasson
    Un cordial Saludo. desde San de Puerto Rico-Estados Unidos de Norte America

    Mery A.

  16. Sari S. says:

    Really socking after red this book.
    Mengungkap sisi lain dari negara yg menjadi tujuan religi sangat mencengangkan dan sangat tidak menghargai wanita.

    Sulthana caracter was very brave from such country that not respect women’s rights.. and make me realize that we should be thank you to God for not live in such country.

  17. Olga says:

    I’m reading the book now. It’s wonderful, thank you, Jean. At the same time I can’t help wondering about how cruel, close, ruthless and hypocritical this society is. Ali and his friend, a student of a religious school, rape an 8-year-old girl. Women are circumcised so that men woud have a tighter grip on them. At the same time they harangue about how Qaran instructs them to treat women – with love and respect. How many of them treat follow this precept?

    I respect all religions, including Islam. Even though I haven’t read the Qaran, I read about it. In my opinion, the teachings of Islam have been grossly distorted by those for whom it was given. The Prophet Muhammed’s first wife was probably the first (and perhaps – alas! – the last) businesswoman in the bedouin society – she owned the caravan business. Imagine a businesswoman in today’s Saudi Arabia, where women are not even allowed to drive!

    It is sad that we in the West watch helplessly women in Saudi Arabia being mistreated. We should at leaast impose economic sanctions on the country and stop buying their oil. After all, there are other oil producing countries.

  18. Me says:

    Does it mean that what is happening to her it’s happening to the all families in Saudi Arabia ,what do you know about it ?
    The Islam there completley right but sadly with wrong hands ..
    She lives with the devil by it self ,so what could we do for her?
    Look at the woman in Palestine , Iraq and Saudi Arabia .In you will see the suffering ,persecution and injustice..
    Would you think to interview the woman there ?I think you would want to kill your self because of what would you hear ..
    THOSE are suffering people in Palestaine and Iraq and I’m sure in other cointries ,too.
    I’m a girl from Saudi Arabia 19 YO..
    I’m living my life and happy with a lovely family ..
    So,why is she living unhappy life?she has to be patient like the public ..
    we sometimes face problems ,yes we do ..
    not from other country mfrom my country it self ..
    when she talked her “suffering and pain” have the WORLD done anything for her?
    The problem in the roots,when we cut it off I’m sure that every thing will be okay ..

    Consider what I have written abreaction of my self ..

    A real witness

    Thank you ..

  19. mahbub haque says:

    sufficient money is sufficient for home, food, clothing, education & health but huge money like saudi princes (princesses also) made them extra endless mileage tend to be a psychologically a personality disorder syndrome, malfunctioning every sort of behavioral as well as thinking paradigm revealing unexpected reality. moreover it is difficult for any human being to continue with enormous & endless money for long period ’cause nobody perhaps could’nt avoid indulgence of alcohol drugs woman(man) war criminal acts etc etc

  20. Hi All. Thanks for stopping by and leave comments for this post. I notice that the discussion have moved from discussing the novel to a more personal discussion such as religion clashes and debates, politics etc. While I appreciate different perspectives shown, I cannot approve all the comments written. I am sure we can find other forum(s) to discuss the many aspects of specific religion and political views in great length elsewhere. Once again thanks, I hope y’all enjoy the novel as much as I do. Starting 15th Feb 2011, comments for this post is no longer accepted. Cheers.

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