Girls of Riyadh Is Saudi Arabia's Gossip Girl

Illustration for article titled Girls of Riyadh Is Saudi Arabia's Gossip Girl

Girls of Riyadh, a novel by writer Rajaa Alsanea about four posh girlfriends whose romantic foibles are posted to a Yahoo group, is causing a major stir in Alsanea's native Saudi Arabia. According to Forbes, the "chick-lit" novel was initially banned when it debuted in 2005 because of the relatively salacious (in Saudi terms) behavior of the book's heroines. (They receive text messages from suitors, they conduct covert operations through online dating profiles, and consider relationships with men from Muslim sects different from their own.) Although the ban on Girls of Riyadh has since been lifted, the most appalling thing about the book is not that it was banned in the first place (though the suppression of free speech is certainly disturbing) — it's the heroines' Western-like obsession with luxury goods.


The book's similarities with Gossip Girl don't end at using the internet as a literary device to move the story forward — according to a review in the UK Independent of the English translation of Girls of Riyadh: "Like their New York sisters, the girls of Riyadh live lives of branded plenitude," writes reviewer Alev Adil. "They watch Hollywood blockbusters, carry miniature pedigree dogs in designer handbags, go to the gym, console themselves with rhinoplasty and chemical peels, drink daddy's secret stash of Dom Perignon and dance the night away in Badgley Mishka or Roberto Cavalli. However, sequestered under Sharia law with little in the way of basic human rights, they must display a great deal more ingenuity than their Western counterparts in order to meet men."

So the acquisition of $3,000 handbags is so important that it's worth circumventing Sharia law. Obviously. It's unclear why disgustingly expensive accoutrements have become such a staple of the chick-lit genre. A book about young, urban women can, in fact, be published without referencing Manolo Blahniks. Guess the notion that women are frivolous label whores transcends cultures!

Saudi Girls Gone Wild [Forbes]
Girls Of Riyadh, By Rajaa Alsanea, Trans. Marilyn Booth: Funny And Chilling: Sex In the Saudi City



I went to school with a large population of Middle Easterners and I will say I've never seen nicer bags or shoes in my life. Many of the girls dressed like they were going out to the club right from class, even in the middle of the winter. I guess that is easy when you can park your Mercedes in the $35/day garage next door and don't have to worry about Boston's freezing cold and snowy days, though.