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3.8 out of 5 stars39
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on 22 February 2012
I have long been fascinated with stories involving women in Islam and this one did not disappoint! Qanta reveals a country of major contradictions and literally lifts the veil on a country that has been shrouded in secrecy for us in the west. As a women brought up in a very free, liberal and feminist household in Chicago I found some of this very hard to read. I just couldn't understand how women could live in an environment like that where there are completely controlled by men. Possibly because it is hard for people of my background to understand the concept of honor and how strongly it is the foundation to that culture. I was also very surprised to read that this has not always been the case and many years ago women did enjoy many freedoms in that country.

In addition, I was fascinated to read about her hajj to Mecca since as a non Muslim I'll never be able to go. I also loved her ability to see the good in people and her deep reflections on the dichotomy of life there....for example how the men are also controlled by the fanatical religious right and how the inability of non married men & women to socialise and even women being completely covered can have the reverse effect of potentially creating a simmering volcano of sexual energy/tension.

I highly recommend this book. I am really glad to learn about the amazing & strong women in Saudi Arabia that are pushing to advance women's freedom...it gives me hope for the future for other women in similar plights.
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on 14 March 2009
After reading just a few pages of this book, I was drawn in. Qanta Ahmed has quite a talent for describing her experiences, painting a vivid picture of her time in Saudi.

The author tackles a fascinating subject, revealing a side to Arabia that is usually hidden from Western view: a people suppressed by those who manipulate religion to serve their own narrow and contradictory ideals; a people who underneath it all try to carry on with their lives like any modern westerner.

And just as you begin to understand and build up an affinity with the people Ahmed describes, the latter chapters throw in a twist that reveals a sad and grotesque side to them, a side governed by cultural conditioning without logic that flies in the face of their modern and pragmatic thinking.

Another reviewer comments about Ahmed's limited knowledge of Islam, something the author herself clearly states throughout the book. That is not important. Ahmed's personal journey as she discovers Saudi Arabia and rediscovers herself will take you on a journey of your own and leave you craving for more. A fantastic read.
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on 1 March 2014
From the moment I opened this book I was completely absorbed and found it very difficult to put it down. The author takes us into the unknown and utterly alien (To us westerners) world of life for a working woman in Saudi Arabia. Not only does this book cover her experiences of working in Arabia, it also takes us on the extremely personal journey of her own religious spirituality and gives us an insight into the inner workings of Islam. The book is wonderful... You laugh and you cry, your jaw will fall open and you will find yourself gobsmacked at the young men in their fast cars and at the self centeredness (is that a word? It is now) of their lives, and then heartbroken at the loss of a colleague's child on a busy road. I could spend hours explaining the many nuances of the difficulties faced by both men and women in the Kingdom. The author has left herself wide open to another book or maybe even as many as three. I for one would have loved to have read more about the patients she helped and the simple ordinary women she met. This is one of those books you hate to finish! More Please Dr Ahmed and soon!
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on 19 January 2011
To get an account what it is like to live in Saudi Arabia, as a single muslim woman from another country, it is well worth a read. I found her description of her own awakening to Islam quite moving, and her experiences otherwise, good and bad, interesting. She does have access to Saudi women and men, albeit of the elite, so can give a rare impression of life in Saudi Arabia.
Sadly, though, the book is let down by insufficient editing. The author is of the school of 'never use a simple word if an obscure one will do' type of writing, which gives it a rather shallow and teenagey impression. Her constant references to dress, style and designer labels unfortunately further adds to that.
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on 5 December 2008
This book is both informative and compelling. It is the account of a British-born Pakistani female, schooled in medicine in Britain and America, signing a contract to work in Saudi Arabia. The journey she recounts comprises her work, her relationships, her colleagues, friends and her faith.

It is fascinating to see the contradiction in the Kingdom, from the dust-stained peasant-boys to the flashy cars and glitzy restaurants; from a repressed society to flesh-baring women - the Kingdom has it all.

It is an engaging journey portrayed from the perspective of the author's uniquely privileged viewpoint, littered with seemingly scripted events and complex characters.

This book has gone some distance toward unveiling the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the precariously balanced society which pervades there - and as a British-born Muslim myself, I find it refreshing and heartening that another moderate voice has the courage to join in the debate.

I recommend to all those who are remotely interested in the subject - and who isn't these days?
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on 15 April 2013
About 50% of this book is and ode to Islam, how great it is, how she is a better Muslim now and numerous explanations in how Islam would make the world a better place. 30% is reserved for descriptions of how handsome all Saudi males are, 15% how beautiful Saudi females are, 4% hospital cases and around 1% actually about invisible women.

The author works in an enclosed compound with only privileged Saudi women and men and mostly foreigners. She has had no contact with regular Saudi women, why? Because they don't come out of the house. All the evil things she encounters are quickly swept under the rug by a quote from the holy book in how it ought to be. There was just a single sentence in the book that 90% of the women there deal with violence. A single sentence. No this book is a personal journey into her own belief system. Nothing more.
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on 21 January 2012
This book initially started quite slow for me, but once the main character had begun to fall into an unknown world it really drew me in. Qanta, thinks that being a western muslim will help her in a career move to Saudi Arabia, but she has many obstacles to overcome. This book is about her experiences as a doctor (pre 9/11). In a world where islam is famous for terrorism and fear, this book is the first to make me realise that islam is findamentally a beautiful religion, having similar teachings to Christianity such as love and forgiveness. It is lovely to read how Qanta enveloped a new found understandng of her faith. However, the culture is a complete shock and one that is very difficult for Qanta to find snippets of goodness in. She encounters sexism, racism, ignorance and naiviety on a regular basis. It is eloquently written and allows the reader to see some of the problems middle-eastern countries encounter. Qanta is very articulate in discussing how many oppressive changes have happened in just a few generations, and efforts which are being made by some strong and brave people, both male and female, to reach a perfect balance between religion and culture.
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on 6 February 2013
I enjoyed this book a lot. The writer has a pleasant style and makes you feel like you are living the experience first hand. It is, at times, weird to think of a world where you exchange phone numbers as your primary means of communication (I somehow feel like e-mails and facebook are more prevalent now) - and MSN Messenger. Nonetheless, the book gives you a very private view into her life and that of her friends. She is very candid and outspoken and her observations are very nicely contoured. She also introduces you to a world of Islam that I had not encountered within my studies (where everything is more theorized). All in all, a book worth reading.

The only flaws I see are some descriptions that drag on and on (think a lite version of Proust) and some stories left in mid-air. I would have liked to know more about certain people or realities within the kingdom. Maybe she'll write a sequel, who knows :) I'd buy it for sure.
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on 16 February 2014
It's an interesting story and a good page turner.

It could have perhaps done with a good editor and a bit more insight and point of view.
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on 14 November 2011
I purchased this book after it was chosen by our book club due to one of its members being posted out to Saudi Arabia for 3 years in the New Year. On the whole the book is well written, interesting and informative, but some of it is so long winded it goes on and on.....

I now have a good knowledge of what my friend will be facing on her visit so it has been worth reading for that alone, but wouldn't be my first choice of a holiday read
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