I actually read the French version of this book (the French version is titled
“Sultana”) but I guess the English version should be pretty much the same - in
any case I’ve put French and English links below.
If bigotry, racism, cruelty, hypocrisy and shear human stupidity make you
angry then this book is likely to leave you feeling furious that such
injustice is allowed to exist in the world. Saudi Arabian society, as
described in this book, seems to have cruelty and misogyny as its founding
Towards the end of the book Sultana meets a Lebanese woman who’s daughter was
abducted by a wealthy Saudi in order to forcibly remove a kidney. After
telling Sultana her story the woman finishes with “It’s true that the need for
money attracts foreigners to Saudi Arabia, but those who have known you will
hate you forever” (I’ve translated this from French so the words may not be
exact but I think the meaning is correct). I’m getting ahead of myself though,
let’s go back to the beginning.
This book, the author tells us, is a true story as told to her by her friend :
a Saudi princess who we only know as “Sultana” - all names have been changed
in order to protect her from reprisals. So have on one hand a fairly
horrifying story but one which we can’t easily verify except by visiting Saudi
Arabia ourselves or finding people we trust who’ve lived there. Although I’ve
no first-hand experience of Saudi Arabia through my wife I’ve met and heard of
Filipinos who’ve worked in the Arab world (including Saudi Arabia) and what
I’ve heard from them gives some support to this book. Read the reviews on
Amazon though and there are a number of dissenting voices from people claiming
to have spent time in Saudi Arabia. I’m going to continue as if the events
described in the book are true, but take the following with a pinch of salt.
Sultana shares the story of her life from the age of three until her thirties
by which time she is married and has given birth to a son and two daughters.
Sultana is the youngest daughter in a family with many daughters but only two
sons. Her brother, only three years her elder but for many years the only son
is given anything he wants and doted on by his mother and father. Sultana is
barely noticed by her father except when he hits her for speaking out of turn
or not showing “proper” respect.
The books contains a litany of horrifying events, including:
A Filipino friend of Sultana’s (Filipino) maid arriving to work for an
employer as a maid only to find she’s expected to provide sexual services for
the family’s teenage sons. However, the husband decides she’s too pretty for
them and keeps her for himself, raping her every night for the length of her
two year contract.
A teenage Saudi girl is raped by her brother’s friends after they get drunk at
her house one night. Her brothers deny that they were drinking and claim she
flaunted herself before them rendering them unable to resist having sex with
her. The boys are believed. Since the girl is pregnant as a result of the
rape, she is confined in hospital until the birth and then stoned to death.
Sultana doesn’t witness the stoning but apparently the family’s chauffeur
enjoys attending a good stoning and later on Sultana describes another stoning
to death as recounted to her by the chauffeur - it’s about as horrifying as
you could imagine with the woman being treated fairly brutally generally, then
whipped and then finally stoned to death by a crowd with the actually
punishment taking two ours before a doctor finally pronounces that the woman
We hear about an unmarried girl friend of Sultana’s being drowned by her own
father after having sexual relations with a man.
Sultana also describes a family holiday to Egypt in which she returns to the
rented villa one day to find her brother raping an 8 year-old girl. When she
complains to her aunt & uncle (the adults taking the teenagers on holiday)
they treat the event as a bit of harmless boyish fun.
There is more but I don’t feel like describing it.
Throughout the book both Sultana herself and the author (Jean Sasson) describe
how courageous Sultana is and how much she works for the rights of women.
However, I didn’t really see any evidence of this - as far as I could see
Sultana was driven by her selfish self-interest and nothing else. In fact she
comes across as a selfish and not very pleasant person.
Anyone reading this book would need to make their own minds up about whether
there is any truth in it or whether it’s an invention of the author.
Personally, I would have thought that the events described within the book
would be enough to identify Sultana and so on balance I’m somewhat doubtful
although unfortunately I can still believe that events similar to those
described could happen in Saudi-Arabia.