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Interesting that you would bring this up because my ESL class has been discussing tourism, and my Saudi students have had some differing perspectives about tourist travel in Saudi.

As you say, tourist visas are not granted unless for religious or business purposes, but I think there's a visa designation for that. (?)

I read Girls of Riyadh a couple years ago, and my students are pretty evenly divided on it, but most agree it's pretty true to life.

They laugh when I ask if I'd be a good tourist in SA because I'm so outspoken. Many of them want to show off their country and wish the country would change with regard to tourism, but they are also just as likely to wish this only if the visitor knows enough about SA not to judge it too harshly.


Jenn--That's really interesting! What age level of students do you teach? It's been really fascinating reading about Saudi Arabia, and I've been curious about how accurate what I've been reading is, so it sounds as though the books do represent life there more or less (even if the novel was somewhat controversial). It's certainly a different world--it seems so foreign to me, but I would be curious to see it. There are a lot of international students on my campus where I work and quite a few are from the Middle East, but I have never interacted with any of them. Books are always the next best thing.

Scriptor Senex

I know they are Afghanistan not Saudi but I think 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' by Khaled Hosseini and 'The Bookseller of Khabul' by Asne Seierstad are the two that really opened my eyes to the plight of women in Musilim countries.

I know you bought 'The Kite Runner' years ago - did you read it? If so, I think 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is even better.


Fascinating, yes but, in all honesty, not a place I would want to visit. I cannot accept to be treated different from a man and to have to wear a veil and being harassed constantly. It was already quite a challnege in Morocco and I didn't travel alone. But the moment he turned around or moved away a few meters, the men got very annoying. Of course it's bad in Italy and France too but not so scary.


I know painfully little about the Middle East. Except that it is unbearably hot and awfully restrictive for women. I did read a lot of Assia Djebar at one time, who is Algerian and writes about Arabic/Muslim culture. Her take is that there is no tradition of love for the males of her country, only a tradition of war. And so this destroys all the tender nurturing properties that men might have access to otherwise. And women become spoils of battle in their way. But this isn't quite in the geographical area you're discussing (although she talks about old Persia, which is partly Saudi Arabia now, isn't it?). As I say, I find this part of the world very confusing!

Liz F

It's always good to get out of your reading comfort zone and read about other cultures - particularly very different ones.

I haven't read a huge amount about Saudi Arabia but I have read a couple of books by Zoe Ferraris which are based in Jeddah, where she lived for a while in a very strict community, and they were definitely eye-opening!

I have added a lot of the books that you mention to my list but I will just have to resist the temptation to order them from anywhere!


Very interesting! I had no idea that tourism wasn't allowed in Saudi Arabia. You've probably heard that women there are trying to get the right to drive. It was in the news a couple months ago and then dropped out, but they are still trying it seems. Such a small thing to us but what a huge difference it could make for women should they get the right. I hope they do!


Saudie Arabia is sort of a blank canvas to me, lately I have ventured out into India a little, also recently bought Hanif Kureishi's My Ear Is At His Heart, which is about his Pakistani father. Somehow it needs time after each book to digest the East West differences, to do them justice.


U.S. Mideast policy should center on the treatment of women. The fastest way to a civilized peace is to promote policies that give women equal power.


Scriptor Senex--I've not read the Hosseini book yet, though I really should. Sometimes books that are too contemporary and deal with difficult events that are in the news are hard for me to read. I am more in the mood now than I have been previously, though, so many now is the time. Thanks for the other suggestions--I have one of Seierstad's other books.

Caroline--I have a feeling that if I ever did get to travel to any of these places it would be a huge culture shock. I'm curious but I wouldn't want to be hassled, which it sounds like Western women are. Interesting that some of the women felt it was worse for women in the West, but I, relatively speaking, rarely feel the way they perceive how life is like here.

Litlove--I'll look her books up--she sounds interesting. I don't know much about life there either, but it does seem restrictive. I recall reading Nine Parts Desire--that the blame for violence on women or at least the reason why they must be covered is that they are a temptation to men--which I find hard to take. Women are blamed for men's bad behavior? Anyway--it's intriguing to read about, if hard to take at times.

Liz--The nice thing about reading outside your comfort zone is once you close your book you are back in your own home! :) I have Zoe Ferraris's books and she is high on my reading list!

Stefanie--When I read the essay on SA in that earlier edition I was hoping to read a later experience and discover how much had changed, but sadly it seems as though little has changed for women. I don't really understand why women can't drive and I do hope they are allowed to do so!

Catharina--It has been to me, too. I've not even seen many movies about life over there so when I read something I always wonder--is this really true?? I'll check out Kureishi's book--I've heard of him but never read any of his work.

Shelley--It certainly should be a huge focus--especially when I so often read about the things that women must endure. You can tell a lot about a society by how women/half the population of a country are/is treated!


I wanted to include Assia Djebar in the Literature and War Readalong but I will read it outside now. The book I have got is Children of the New World. I have a few others of her books but I'm not sure they have been translated.


Have you read any of Jean Sasson's books? I remember reading her Princess trilogies a couple of years ago. They're based on one of the princesses she met while working in a hospital in Riyadh. I remember considering those books as one of my favourites back then.


Caroline--I think this is the first time I've come across Assia Djeber--or I just didn't note her down before. I'll have to look up her books. Which were you considering for the readalong?

Geentanjali--I think I read one of Jean Sasson's books in the early 90s (was she writing back then?)--or maybe I am thinking of the book Not Without My Daughter, but that is set in Iran. I'll have to look Sasson's books up--I didn't realize they were also about Saudi Arabia--thanks!


It was Children of the New World, on the war in Algeria. As you may know - I may have mentioned it in comments - my father fought in Algeria for three years (also certainly the reason for my particular interest - I grew up with combat tales). That's why I refrained from putting it on the list, should it be too hard for one reason or the other.


Caroline--I'll look it up. If you read it let me know and maybe I could read along. I'll have to see if my library has any of her books. I can totally understand why the subject matter feels too close to home to want to read it in a group setting, or maybe at all. I recall you mentioned your father had fought there--three years is a really long time--he must have had many interesting stories!


I've been reading a lot about the middle east lately and would love to read a series about women in Saudi Arabia.


Kathleen--It is an area that has only recently become really interesting to me. I am woefully ignorant of what is like over there. Hopefully I'll be able to read a few more books this year and I would definitely like to read more about Saudi Arabia.

Jobs in Saudi Arabia

You have to have your passport/visa with you at all periods unless you have your residence card (Iqama), once you have this you must keep it with you at all periods. If you get ceased with no legitimate ID you will be handled like an unlawful and taken off to prison, most of the law enforcement do not talk (or select not to speak) British and will not usually be beneficial. If you are with a lady, she best be your spouse and you.

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