Princess: A True Story of Life Behind The Veil in Saudi Arabia

We women are vassals, and the walls of our prisons are inescapable, for this grotesque disease of preeminence lives in the sperm of all men and is passed along, generation to generation – a deadly, incurable disease whose host is male and victim is female.”
I read  a book called Princess: A True Story of Life Behind The Veil in Saudi Arabia written by the American writer Jean Sasson. Sasson mostly writes about the ghastly condition of the women in the middle-east. While working as administrative coordinator in the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh she came face to face with the appalling conditions of the women in Saudi Arabia. Her first book was The Rape of Kuwait. It is about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and was published before the war broke out in 1991. Princess is Sasson’s second book and it is based on facts told to Sasson by Saudi Arabian princess Sultana. It revolves around the life of Sultana, the mistreatment that she suffers at the hands of patriarchy in spite of the fact of being royalty.  A woman in Saudi Arabia has no right to vote, no control of her own life and no value .The most important role she has is that of bearing sons. The identity of Sultana is concealed in order to assure her safety. The book remained on The New York Times Bestseller list for 13 weeks.

We see the life of the women in the palace through Sultana’s eyes and it is not much different from the way normal women are treated. Sultana’s father was the son of Abdul Aziz, the first king of Saudi Arabia and the brother of the current king. She has ten siblings and her mother who was married at a very young age and was the first of her father’s wives. She recounts her turbulent childhood where she witnessed her sister Sara being forced into an arranged marriage at the age of sixteen. Sara’s dreams of studying art and working in a museum were shattered at the announcement of her marriage to a man who was more than twice her age. Although she cried and protested, Sultana’s father got Sara married under heavy sedatives. This had a great impact on Sultana’s life as she was very close to her sister.

Sultana’s father married again the fifth time after her mother’s death to  Sultana discovered that the girl Ramda, her father’s new wife was only a few years older to her. Sultana relates the horrific history of oppression against women which in any other culture would be seen as shocking violation of human rights. Sultana recounts horrific stories of young girls being forced into forced marriage to witnessing servants bullied into sex slavery. Sultana, who was initially a fiery girl, slowly realized that rules were different for her and her sisters and their brother Ali. Soon Sultana found out that her father had also found a husband for her and his name was Kareem. Initially she did not want to get married to him but when the boy’s family came to see Sultana they fell in love with each other. After getting married both of them lived a happy life. Though they had three daughters, some tensions prevailed which were mostly because of Kareem’s mother who did not like Sultana. When Sultana was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to go through sterilization surgery, Kareem decided to take up a second wife in order to have more children. As the story further unfolds, we see Sultana’s reaction to her husband’s decision and what all she does to prevent this.

The book is a testimony to the immense courage and indomitable spirit of a woman under trying times. For the sake of her daughters Sultana decided to speak up about the situation of the women in her land though anonymously.  The book is an eye-opener and brings to light the arrogance of male dominance and cruelty and oppression still faced by the women in the world. It is a must read for all. It is enraging and compels us to think about the  issues of rights of women, who in some parts of the world are not even considered as humans.

Madhurima Ganguly