despite the cheese....

Ok, has anyone noticed how much blatant cheese has found its way onto prime time lately?

And I'm not talking about Glee (eee!). Rather, tonight Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was on. And I maybe sort of got pulled in. Pulled into a movie that stars the Bee Gees, and the only speaking part belongs to George Burns.

So bizarre.

I also watched Some Kind of Wonderful the other night. Sometimes, Gilmore Girls episodes make you think a movie (written by John Hughes) is a must-see cultural touchstone. And sometimes that's completely wrong.

(Even though my heart totally melted on this closing line: "You look good wearing my future.")

Anyway.... You probably came here to read about books.

And so I offer you something you might think would be cheesy, like Sex and the City but in Riyadh (not Abu Dhabi).

But Girls of Riyadh is more than chick lit fare. It pushes the edges of your expectations on several levels -- to read it is to learn about a completely different culture, and to re-evaluate romance and fairy tales.
On its surface, it's not well written. I blame this in part on the translation -- in fact, the author notes before the start of the novel that the original text incorporated classic Arabic with so-called "mongrel Arabic," language that would encompass Saudi turns of phrase, Lebanese-Arabic and English-Arabic. I can't imagine that's easy to translate to English, and so I can see why some of the phrasing is not only awkward, but actually reaching to sound cool and modern.
I also blame it on the mix of styles; Rajaa Alsanea asks you to imagine each chapter is an e-mail being sent out to young Saudis by an anonymous writer each week. So the bulk of the chapter is told in a traditional story-telling manner -- and this is the part that draws you in. But the start of each chapter is a message from the writer, mildly taunting, sometimes including excerpts from the Koran. I see the magic of what Alsanea is doing; she is setting the scene, signalling how closed and secret a society she is discussing. (But getting what she's doing doesn't mean I like the way these intros are written.)
But seriously, I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to learn something new and also enjoy a book like you'd enjoy a fairly good dessert.

1 comment:

erin said...

Glad you enjoyed it... now that you mention it, I do recall the language being awkward. But, as you alluded to, this book is more about the message than the medium. And I think the aspect of it that I like best is that it isn't a "pound you over the head" feminist message. In fact, if I'm remembering correctly, the author's overall feelings about the status of Saudi women isn't altogether clear; she gives value to both the traditional and the modern. And maybe that what makes it so interesting and compelling to "Western" women, where conforming to tradition is often considered failing the feminist movement... thoughts?