Controversial Saudi novel leads new generation into reading books

September 28, 2010


Banat Al Riyadh (Girls of Riyadh), a novel written in the form of e-mails about the personal lives of four young Saudi girls, has encouraged a whole generation of people to take up reading, publishers have said.

“We have noted that young boys and girls in their pre-teen or early teen years have read the novel and are asking for similar books,” Housam, a publisher at the Al Ayam Book Fair in Manama, said. “Some of these youngsters told us that they never really cared about buying or reading novels until they stumbled or were told about Girls of Riyadh,” he said.

The book, written by Raja Al Sanea, a young Saudi woman, recounts the lives of the girls as they challenge strict social conventions. The book expectedly waded into controversy and was rejected by conservatives as a smear to Saudi Arabia.

Thousands of copies were however bought by Saudis in Bahrain where bookshops said that it was a hit.

“We are still selling the book to many people, both young and old. Many said that they related to the characters and to the way it was written,” Housam, from Al Saqi Publishing, said. “Whenever we participate in a book fair in any Arab country, we have people who ask for the book.”

The 10-day book fair, organized by Al Ayam for the 18th time, has not this year had issues with bans on books.

In Kuwait, however, the information ministry had to defend itself against accusations of limiting people’s reading options, saying that it had banned only 25 books from the Kuwait Book Fair.

The ban was on the grounds that the books had blasphemous or pornographic content, attacked prophets and Prophet Mohammad’s Companions or insulted Kuwait or sisterly states, the ministry said. The sisterly states term is often used to refer to Arab countries.

The banned books were among the 24,000 to be displayed by 38 publishing companies at the book fair. “We simply applied the laws and regulations,” the ministry said following harsh criticism that the ban meant an attack on personal freedoms.

“We act upon the view of an expert committee made up of representatives from the League of Writers, the University of Kuwait, the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, the Ministry of Information as well as some specialists,” the ministry said, Alaan newsportal reported on Tuesday. “The committee rules out books that clash with the publishing laws, and not authors. In one instance, the author of a book that has been banned is displaying 182 other books in the fair.”



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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