The book follows the real life story of Princess Sultana Al Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia – the name changed for maintaining the lady and her family’s privacy. Jean Sasson has narrated the story in first person in the voice of the Princess herself.
Princess Sultana talks about her life from childhood, beginning at the age of four. She speaks about the way the women of Saudi Arabia, including those in the royal households, are dominated over completely by the men. Even her father’s driver Omar appears to have had more authority in their home than her mother or Sultana and her sisters.
Sultana’s brother Ali is given so much importance that the young girl believed that he was God. It is after her mother sets her right does Sultana understand that Ali was treated the way he was because he is the SON of the house and for no other reason.
The book is all about Sultana’s frustration and rebellion to gain her father’s affection and respect in the beginning. Later on, it turns to hatred for her brother. She quotes many instances where women are treated so terribly. We living in the metropolis of Mumbai would find them all so strange and non-relatable.
Young women of barely fourteen and fifteen years being stoned to death, drowned in the house swimming pool with weights tied to them or enclosed in a dark airless room with a hole for a toilet and kept there to die way before their time are just a few of the incidents that happened at the end of the twentieth century in this land ruled by the Koran. There are also many instances where girls between the ages of 15 and 17 were married as third or fourth wives to men over fifty years of age. Being raped on their wedding nights was pretty common with the womenfolk in Saudi Arabia.
Princess Sultana is convinced that the religious men (but of course) or mutawas ruled the land and had more power than the King himself.
The horrifying details of the women’s plights and Sultana’s rebellion about the situation make for an emotional read. It’s heartrending to imagine the situation that had prevailed – and probably does till date – till the end of the last century.
Of course, living in India and hearing about twenty-first century child marriages way up in North India; grooms being kidnapped in Bihar and forced to get married to the daughter of the house and murdering couples who are in love and insist on getting married; kind of makes the situation in Saudi Arabia quite believable.
It is so pathetic that only human beings have the capacity to hurt other humans in the name of religion. I cannot believe that any God or his son would have foreseen this situation when they put the Koran or the Bible together – to be misinterpreted or twisted to their own ends.
The book is about Sultana as a kid under her father’s thumb, then later being harassed by her brother. She gets married to Kareem. She believes she has found the ideal man whom she could respect and love. It remains true up until the point when Sultana is diagnosed with breast cancer. While her life is not in danger, the doctor warns them against having more kids. They already have a son and two daughters at this point.
Sultana had always believed that she would be Kareem’s only wife and is quite proud of the fact. She also respects and loves him for the same reason. Her heart breaks when Kareem talks to her of his intention of taking another wife as having many children is very important to the men-folk in Saudi Arabia.
Sultana runs away from home along with her three children till Kareem agrees not to marry again. She does return to him but her spirit is completely broken as she understands that women will always remain subordinate in their society.
This moving tale gives one an inside perception into the minds of the Muslim society in Saudi Arabia and also probably in the rest of the world.
I have always believed that the Indian society in their treatment of women has changed a lot after the advent of the Moghuls – women were treated with way more respect in yonder days. And this book convinces me that I perceive right.