Click here to read reviewer Shampa Chatterjee's review of The Girls of Riyadh.
Reading this intriguing take on life and love in the “velvet” upper class of Riyadh, it is difficult to attribute a more serious intent to the author’s novel other than the gradual unfolding of four friends’ experiences with first love, expectations and loss.
Couched in the luxury of their economic situations, the girls have every material need provided, restricted only by the rigid social and religious conventions of Saudi Arabia. However, all these young ladies are respectful of their heritage and obedient to their families, even when such demands directly contradict their own romantic fancies.
Gamrah is the first to marry, attended by her friends Sadeem, Lamees and Michelle. Unfortunately, Gamrah will endure the first shattering of illusions, her dreams of paradise in the arms of her beloved never realized, even her wedding night a disappointment. Yet anything seems possible on her wedding day, the future bright with promise.
As Gamrah moves to America with her groom, there to suffer a number of indignities that eventually send her back to the bosom of her family, the other three friends embark on the realization of their dreams - to fall in love and marry the first loves of their lives. To that end, they exchange phone numbers with admirers, beginning the ritualized courtships that allow them an abundance of time for romantic endeavors, fueling the desire for the consummation of their dreams.
Their romantic tribulations are accounted, chapter by chapter, by an anonymous female narrator who posts the unfolding events on the Internet. Refusing to disclose her identity, the moderator offers comments and reactions to each phase of her narrative before beginning the next adventure of her sympathetic protagonists.
Yet within this structured framework, the friends experience all the delusions of first love - the petty jealousies, the endearing attentions of their chosen mates - all but one to face failure in achieving their shared dream.
The universal experiences of these four young women are familiar to any generation of marriageable females anywhere in the world, subject only to differing cultures and mores. There is no lack of desperate longings, the idealization of the beloved, the tantalizing chase and inevitable fulfillment or loss of affection. With each love spurned, the girls must face the harsh realities of their foolish expectations, fed by romantic stories and magazines.
The author subtly manipulates her stories to illustrate the demands of a culture that does not cater to love matches as the girls agonize over lost opportunities and poor choices, finally redefining their identities to better protect themselves from failure. There is no deeper context, nor does the author claim one, offering an inside view of a fascinating culture and a universal rite-of-passage for young women everywhere.