Girls Of Riyadh (3 stars)

RAJAA ALSANEA

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Girls Of Riyadh (Fig Tree)

CHICKLIT

If ever a book could carry an accusation of being designed to inspire contention, Girls of Riyadh might well be it. A tale of four young and fashionable middle-class Saudi girls who live under the strictures of Islamic tradition, yet who are inspired by the Western culture they discuss on their message board, it was banned outright around the Middle East. A trade in black market copies has naturally followed.

It’s not that Rajaa Alsanea, a 25-year-old daughter of Saudi doctors now resident in Chicago, reveals anything about groups of female friends that the likes of Candace Bushnell hasn’t already explored, but the novel’s setting is an education in itself. It opens a window on a youth culture that the West never gets to see, telling stories of arranged marriages, adultery and youthful rebellion. While it might be relatively tame and probably least revelatory to those it portrays, it’s an intriguing curiosity amidst the crowded chicklit market.

(David Pollock)

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