Author: Jean P. Sasson (1992)
Publisher: Bantam Books 1993
Category: True story/Biography
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.