Monday, December 04, 2006

A review of “Banat el Riyadh”

The Taxi Driver as a Literary Critique
A review of “Banat el Riyadh”

Bonjour ya shabeb wa banet Bayrout el abieh,

Should I start with "read the book"? Well I should, simply because the title of the sexy dawning you see below is originally that of a book, and not because the book is really worth reading, although Banat el-Riyadh (the book) is now in its 9th or 12th edition and it was only published a couple of years ago. Tayyib here, some basic information: the author is a young Saudi woman named Raja2 el Sane3. She was born in 1981 (ie she is my age, which implies that if I put myself to more writing I could publish a book about Banat el Riyadh (or the lack of them in my case) and get myself expulsed from Saudi Arabia. She is Saudi. She is a dentist (though I doubt she ever pulled a tooth or looked into anyone’s mouth). Enough about Raja2 (for more information you can check this website (it has an English summary of the book for those among you who cannot read Arabic or forgot how to).

As to the book, well it tells the story of four Saudi young women and their gossip. It was written in the form of “e-mails”… a pseudo-modern attempt to imitate a literary style of composing a narrative in the form of letters (I refer you to Laclos’s Liaisons Dangereuses / Dangerous Liaisons or to Derrida’s The Postcard for a good read; mind you that I by no means am comparing Banat el Riyadh to those two master-pieces…).

When it first came out, the book caused such a stir-up in the Kingdom that it was immediately banned, and Raja2 fled the country. Unfortunately that’s how things work in the world of literature and publishing: Ban a book and it will sell a billion copies because people will think that 1) it carries the secret of the universe 2) contains “sex” 3) has the secret recipe of the most delicious mloukhieh in the world… (take Salman Rushdy’s Satanic Verses as a case-in-point… I’ve tried reading the book so many times and could never get across page 6; I even tried reading it from the middle and still failed… come to think about it, the main reason Christianity was able to spread was probably because someone banned the Bible and people started circulating it in secret on stone plates…I mean seriously… why else would Christianity be able to spread?????)

Eh sorry back to Banat el Riyadh. The book caused a major stir-up in the desert among the tribes because people who had not read the book reported that it was “immoral” and “ruined the reputation of Saudi girls” (who are all self-righteous and extremely reserved… mind you the only time of my life when a woman “basbasit 3layé” was in Riyadh… I felt very strange). And since all girls here want to learn how to ruin a reputation, the book sold millions. The press was all over it: Pro-Banat vs. The Anti-Banat, and people almost forgot what was happening around them. Even Pakistani taxi drivers had opinions about the book (Rajif the Pakistani driver: No boss hada book very bad, Islam salla lahu 3alayhi wa sallam say no 7aram)!

Read the book. It’s worth knowing a little about the decadence of Arab societies. Immediately after you finish with Banat el Riyadh, run and buy Abdelrahman Munif’s Cities of Salt just to get you out of the abysmal trap of Banat el Riyadh. Cities of Salt is about Saudi Arabia when the oil was first discovered. It’s a novel; a magnificent one in fact. Cities of Salt is available in English.


genuine said...

so that's what it was all about.
I thought it was just a caricature. Thanks for the clarification! :)

taxi drivers ar the best literary critics said...

Af7amtna ya Rajif!!

genuine said...


nervosa said...

Following the topic of banned books, have you read "Awlad Haretna" by Najib Mahfouz? That is the book I personnally have on the top of my reading list of "once banned books". There's also "Telka Al Ra2e7a" (That smell) by Sonn3alah Ibrahim, Egyptian Leftist published in 1966, then banned for 10 years. I am mentionning this book because it sounds like the complete opposite of Banat el Riyad, it is rather about a secret life of men. He wrote it after emprisonnement for several years in Nasser's time, of course for political reasons.
Again it is said that it was popular mostly for its dealing with the "sexual" reality or practices inside the prison.. "sex sells"
Well I shouldn't be writing a review about a book I haven't read yet but it is interesting and wondering if anyone knows about it.

Anonymous said...


My name is Mahmoud Itani. I don't read a lot, but I am interested in knowing what are some of your favorite books... just out of curiosity... i know people don't like to be asked "name your favourite...", but hey, it might make a nice conversation... here i'll suggest a little exercise and see if it tempts you: Name a book you read and enjoyed, then in one sentence say why. One Sentence. You can also use quotations from the book in question. Anyone on this blog is free to join this game.


Don Moussawi, St Tropez said...

After reading this review I doubt that the author even bothered to read the book of Raja2 before trashing it.
It is strange how so many lines can be empty when it comes to substance and sense of humor. In three words this review is just: Useless, silly and chauvinistic.
Dude just read the book, I am sure it can serve you as jucy masturbation material.

بنت من الرياض said...

دون موسوي: انت واحد ترين (قطار يعني)