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3.7 out of 5 stars42
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 17 June 2008
This book really is good. It blasts away all those stereotypes of Saudi women leading miserable, loveless lives with absolutely no freedom. The four main characters in this book have varying opinions about how a woman should live her life and what's important. They also have goals, ambition and desires - like women in the west, although it's different with an eastern twist to it.

Of course the four main characters in the book have a difficult time finding love and without doubt they are to some extent under the control of the men in their families, but along the way they manage to meet and flirt with men, have boyfriends and even have some physical contact with them. It's just the way they do things over there is different from the way it's all done in the west.

But it isn't any the less passionate for that.

The four girls Lamees, Gamrah, Sadeem and Michelle manage to find their men outside a shopping mall, at work, among their relatives and abroad and they have real relationships with them. OK a lot of the relationship is conducted on mobile telephones, but that's as good a way as any to get to know someone properly - after all you are still talking to them.

I realise that these women who are from the Saudi "velvet" class - the rich elite, (though not the Royal family) are quite priviledged and not necesarily representative of all Saudi women. But it's nice to see them as real human beings and not just silent shrouded people.
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on 21 August 2008
Alsanea's novel takes the form of a series of emails publicising the adventures of the writer's friends in their search for love. Following the fates and foibles of four women (Gamrah, Lamees, Sadeem and Michelle) in their quest for Mr Right, the format is not dissimilar to the infamous Sex and the City series: it's funny with four very different heroines. However, this is set in the affluent families of Saudi Arabia, so despite education, wealth and experience of life abroad these are nonetheless women imprisoned by the peculiar social formalities of Saudi society. So, behind every weak or ignorant man there is almost always a stronger more competent woman trapped by his actions and therein lies the tragedy that stops this being a funny book. You read every page grateful that you don't live in Saudi Arabia.

It's a hugely illuminating book, showing women in Saudi as real women with real aspirations and desires, and a good way of destroying the image of Saudi women as simply compliant shadows to the men in their lives. It also serves as a testament to the perils of socialised mysogyny. My one reservations was that the email format of the book (which allows each chapter to begin with a discussion about emails supposedly received in response to the previous installment) slightly detracted from the power of the story as a whole. Nonetheless, a good read.
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VINE VOICEon 12 September 2007
Along with Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', this book is a 'must-read' in Dubai this Summer. Everyone is talking about it and all the book groups are reading it.

We meet four young Saudi women from very wealthy backgrounds. They are determined to break from tradition and marry for love, but their plans seem constantly thwarted. In a class driven society it is impossible to cross the barriers, the wrong name, or region of Saudi, can doom a match from the start, and families always seem to have the final say.

I felt for these women, who are fighting for the freedom that they see their sisters in the West enjoying, while at the same time they are true to their Islamic beliefs and try to respect the restrictions imposed by their religion.

What bothered me most was that having read 'Princess' by Jean Sasson, written nearly 20 years ago, I was concerned that some girls, from more traditional families, might be encouraged to follow in their footsteps, possibly resulting in imprisonment or even honour killings. Whilst some families might allow more freedom, I'm sure there are others who still maintain the old traditions.

I found it interesting, though not riveting.
Readers who have read it in Arabic as well as English, claim it has lost something in the translation.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 November 2007
I have an interest in modern Arab fiction, so when I saw this Saudi novel was translated and published by a major press I couldn't resist checking it out. Unfortunately, the story is pretty thin gruel and fails to provide a particularly rich or insightful glimpse into the Arab world -- or rather, 99.9% of the Arab world. It revolves around the social life of the rich and pampered young elite of the Saudi kingdom, and the picture it paints is not very pretty. Framed as a kind of online serialization of a roughly six-year span in the lives of four young women of the "velvet class", the story is confined to soap opera antics that could occur among privileged teens in China, India, Canada, or any number of other places.

The four co-protagonists are Sadeem, Gamrah, Michelle and Lamees -- girls of roughly similar backgrounds (although Michelle spent a good deal of her childhood in the West) who become friends in high school. Though they are of varying temperament, they are like teens and young people everywhere, mainly obsessed with the opposite sex. Unfortunately for them, the oppressive social climate of Saudi Arabia makes actual interaction rather problematic. For example: shopping malls operate such that men and women cannot mingle, wooing consists of driving next to a carload of women and holding up signs with one's cell-phone number, and speaking of cell phones -- billing records are scrutinized by family and prospective in-laws to asses the wholesomeness of a prospective bride.

This separation of the sexes leads to a lot of daydreaming and romanticizing among the four women, which in turn leads to some predictably bad relationships. Some are so intent on getting married that they leap into marriage with the first man who comes along, and are then caught in bleak, loveless marriages. Others are so intent on "true love" that they ignore all the warning signs and become emotionally entangled with men who have no intention of marrying them. Many of these predicaments follow the familiar storylines of "love matches" vs. arranged marriages in a supposedly modern society -- a topic that's been more or less done to death by South Asian writers. In the same vein, relationships that cross class lines are pretty much taboo, a theme well-covered in British literature.

Ultimately, it's hard to care for any of these pampered, haute couture-consuming brats when their love lives crash and burn. Lip service is paid to feminism, and that's certainly a valid point to be made in terms of Saudi society, however these four women are awfully superficial messengers.
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on 23 August 2010
This is a great book: it lifts the lid on what young Arabic (Saudi) girls do- like young girls the world over, they're gossiping about boys and trying to look cute. What's really interesting is seeing how they do it within the strict confines of Saudi society. A lovely book- fun and down-to-earth.
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VINE VOICEon 16 March 2008
Along with Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', this book is a 'must-read' in Dubai this Summer. Everyone is talking about it and all the book groups are reading it.

We meet four young Saudi women from very wealthy backgrounds. They are determined to break from tradition and marry for love, but their plans seem constantly thwarted. In a class driven society it is impossible to cross the barriers, the wrong name, or region of Saudi, can doom a match from the start, and families always seem to have the final say.

I felt for these women, who are fighting for the freedom that they see their sisters in the West enjoying, while at the same time they are true to their Islamic beliefs and try to respect the restrictions imposed by their religion.

What bothered me most was that having read 'Princess' by Jean Sasson, written nearly 20 years ago, I was concerned that some girls, from more traditional families, might be encouraged to follow in their footsteps, possibly resulting in imprisonment or even honour killings. Whilst some families might allow more freedom, I'm sure there are others who still maintain the old traditions.

I found it interesting, though not riveting.
Readers who have read it in Arabic as well as English, claim it has lost something in the translation.
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on 22 April 2009
I think this book is well written and an excellent read, it breaks the stereotype that these girls are fed with golden spoons, well they do have the golden spoon but it isnt always enough.

Being a British Muslim and having lived a normal life, job, bills, grey weather and then travelled to the Gulf region seeing all these "Supermodel" type girls floating around the malls.. one only imagines what their "rich" lives could be. This book is a great eye opener and first time i feel happy to have been born in the west..

Also on the other hand i realised.. Girls anywhere in the world are still girls and we all share the same pains of growing up. Hats off to the author..
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on 23 January 2015
Overall a fascinating collection of emails. Would like to have read it in Arabic as the translator professed that the author and publisher made changes to the detriment of the book. Never knowing the identity of the narrator was frustrating. The lofty ideal the girls set out to achieve ultimately failed, it was a naive ideal. The dominance of the male in Saudi society, the power of family, religion and traditions within their
culture led to casing the girls hopes that had been fired by their experiences and understanding of Western society, culture and expectations of western women. Love does not conquer all in Saudi and love maybe has not the same meaning. I found the book left me with feelings of sadness and frustration at the plight of these educated girls, who set out in life with quite ordinary goals by western standards
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on 15 October 2009
The book is very easy to read and highly entertaining. Also, provides an insight into a highly obscure society. I recommend it although I think that the translation didn't do it justice and will definitly try to get hold of it in Arabic (the original language the book was written in).
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on 16 September 2013
Set in Saudi Arabi, this book unfolds the story of a group of young women that are bounded in the culture of an Islamic world. Despite the rigidness of conformity that I had previously imagined exists in an Islamic country, this book sheds a new light on the responses of people...especially the youth...when faced with such restraints. Although still conforming to the strong rules that govern Saudi, the girls find their own ways of self-expression that is fun, saucy and absolutely delightful to read.
I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone, especially those who wish to glimpse an insight into a cultural background that remains unknown to many, and to those that love a good chic-flick but want something a little deeper and a little more real.
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