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Princess: a True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia - Jean P. Sasson

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Genre: Biography / Author: Jean P. Sasson / Edition: Reissue / Mass Market Paperback / 283 Pages / Book is published 1997-04 by Avon Books

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      10.02.2008 16:11
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      Stunningly sombre book that opens the door on a closed society.

      Princess is a real-life-story unlike any that I have ever read before. From the moment I opened the cover I was hooked. From start to finish the book is a testimony to a woman of indomitable spirit and great courage and Jean Sasson truly captures the flavour and reality of life as 'Sultana' the Saudi Princess. 'Sultana's' birth nor death will ever be recorded, for she is a woman. A woman who lives in a society where only men have worth. 'Sultana' lives her life like a prisoner is a gilded cage, she has unlimited funds at her disposal yet she lacks the one thing she desires the most. Freedom. Wherever she is she is totally at the mercy of the men in her life... her father, her brother, her husband. "If no-one knows of my existence, does that mean I do not exist" For this reason 'Sultana', despite the high level of risk has chosen to tell her story and through the author Jean Sasson an unvarnished tale of a closed society is brought to light in a sombre book that makes us think about what right we have to keep the oppressed, oppressed. When I read this book for this first time I was truly moved, it made me laugh and cry but most of all it made me think and it made me feel sorry for those less fortunte than I. The impact this story will have on you will last forever, as "this is a real-life story you will never forget"

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      15.03.2007 19:38
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      READ IT AND BE SHOCKED

      This is probably one of the books you will read in life, and be shocked. Princess is a terrifying tale of life for women in saudi arabia. Plot Princess is a biography written by Jean Sasson about a young woman, born into a noble family in Saudi Arabia. Despite her royal status, the fact that she is a woman means she has no right at all. She is to be ruled by men her whole life and bear witness to honour killings and sex slavery and be the victim of an arranged marriage. In this book she dictates her life story under the false name sultana (to make sure her family is safe), and reveals some shocking secrets. Her life is one filled with much trauma and sadness. Her eldest brother Ali is a cruel sexist man who is the pride of her fathers life. To outsiders he is seen as charming and macho... everything one wants in a man but in reality he is so cruel it makes the reader disgusted. He is a totally oppressive male and is allowed to get away with (quite literally) murder. The degree of the terrible problems every women faces in this patriarchal country are reinstated by the many marriages between men and girls (yes innocent girls) who are from different generations. Sarah, Sultana's sister, suffers one of these marriages. She is married to an abusive husband, decades older than herself and is the victim to sadistic behaviour until she runs away and divorces him. She is considered to be lucky as many women trapped in these marriages are not allowed to divorce and live everyday in fear and sadness. Sultanas own marriage which starts in such happiness is in shambles by the end of the book. This is heartbreaking as Princess says 'Men I loved, men I detested, leaving a legacy of shame in their treatment of women.' This line sums up the plot of the book. What I think of the book I loved this book. It isnt the sort of book that one reads for enjoyment, but it is a book that everyone has to read in life. I found it shocking, and cried in many places, but once i read it i felt enlightened... as though i had learnt something. This book is fantastic and although is sad in places, its truthful and a great GREAT read

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        12.10.2006 12:41
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        A pathetic story and a must read stuff for everybody!

        This book exposes the weak religious impulses of Islam in the land of Saudi Arabia. How Islam is distorted by the socalled male royals! The author has made a good attempt to bring the sufferings of Arabian women into limelight. Islam allows polygamy, which is subject to terms and conditions. But many Arabians defy this Islamic decree and manipulate the Quran verses for their sexual gratification. Quran doesn't teach us to treat women as chattel. Islam is the first religion which has stood up against the atrocities of women. And, look how these Arabians maltreat women and rape them under legalized canopy of Nikaah! A pathetic story and a must read stuff for everybody! Munaz Anjum www.ciol.com

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          02.09.2005 16:51
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          Sensational, believable, heart rending, amazing

          Having read Sassoon's, "Mayada", I was keen to read this trilogy. The insight given into a world which many of us will never experience first hand is absolutely intriguing and invaluable. The way in which this is written really allows the reader to imagine being there and be empathic towards the central character, Princess Sultana. The joy of this novel and the two sequals which follow, is that the characters are not fictional. Joy is maybe not the right word as there are many harrowing stories told about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia and just when you think that everything is running smoothly for the women in "Sultana's Circle" another dramatic event takes place. There are elements of comic relief throughout, especially when truculant teenagers are described kicking back at the traditional values of Islam and Sultana herself tries everything she can to get her older brother into trouble as a child. This is a bit like a car crash, you know that if you look further you may see something you don't particularly like but that does not stop you from rubber-necking around the next page. This trilogy has opened my eyes, there are many things in the world that we would rather not know about but any caring person with a soul should expose themselves to these things if they want to further their understanding of different and exciting cultures. The only down side? I am left wanting more, seven years have lapsed since the setting of the final book and there has to be more, especially since the death of the King of Saudi Arabia. Let's hope.

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            21.06.2005 09:40
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            Princess, by Jean Sasson, is the biographical and often disturbing account of one woman's life in a relatively modern Saudi Arabia; which still believes its women are inferior to its menfolk. The author, Jean Sasson, spent over ten years living and working in Riyadh and was incensed at the inequality of women within the country, and the power that men hold, and it was during this time that she met Princess Sultana. The Princess, the youngest in a family of eleven surviving children, including only one boy, begged Sasson to write her biography, based on her diaries even from childhood. Sasson was reluctant to write this biography at first; and it was not until after the Kuwait invasion in 1990 and Sasson's visit back to SA the following year, that she felt moved enough to bringing this story to the forefront of westerner's minds. Saudi Arabia is a rich country, with ¼ of the world's known oil reserves. It is also a vast country in size, as big as Western Europe, although a large part is desert and uninhabited and the country is home to only 14 million people. There are stiff punishments including amputation of hands for anyone guilty of theft, and even the right to murder one's only family member for crimes against an individual. An eye for an eye would hold true under Saudi law. Amazingly women are rarely ever to testify for the reasons give that (1) They are emotional and will distory their testimony; (2) they cannot understand what they observe; (3) they will give testimony according to what men tell them as they are inferior, and (4) they are forgetful! Sultana's grandfather was Abdul Aziz, whose descendents have ruled Saudi Arabia since the turn of the 20th century. Aziz amazingly married 300 women and produced fifty sons and eighty daughters; creating a powerful family who are at the centre of economic life in the Kingdom today. Saudi women are essentially paired off into arranged marriages at very early ages, and it isn't uncommon for a 12 year old to be foreced to marry someone as much as five times her age, in order that she may produce sons for him. Despite Sultana's mother having 16 children (five died), her husband still took another wife in his quest for sons. Sultana's mother was married at the age of 12 and the first five girls were not even allowed to be educated, although the younger five were. This Muslim country has the Koran at the core of its religion although it would be wrong to blame this treatment of women on the religion itself as much as the customer and practices of the dark ages. While some of the content of this book was not complete news to me, having read plenty of the same broad genre in the past, there are several accounts of brutality to women which seem completely unforgiveable, including cruelty imposed on a woman by a man in marriage, yet the particular girl's seems to condone the behaviour. Sultana herself is quite fiesty compared to her sisters and mother, and was generally regarded as more of a trouble causer. She despised her only brother Ali, his behaviours and everything he stood for. It is remarkable even with the knowledge that sons are revered, that Ali was barely punished for some of his own despicable actions, particularly towards women. It is appalling that in a relatively recent age (the book covers up to 1991), the depths of punishment that are doled out to women for at worse could be termed minor misdemeanours, if they are wrongs at all. One girl was imprisoned for the whole of the remainder of her life, simply for falling in love with a Westerner when in London. It is also amazing how almost unbelievably wealthy this family is, with most men taking four wives and even having four palaces per family unit, completely identical, down to every detail, in the case of Sultana's family, so that they didn't have to travel with lots of luggage..... The family go to great lengths for personal comfort, including accounts of buying up every first class seat to travel, and refitting the entire maternity ward in an opulent standard, before the birth of a first child. Yet for a country whose people's have travelled so widely, it seems incomprehensible that this domination can still reign at home. Despite Sultana's feistiness and the stories she details in the book, she herself still has to bow to pressure for an arranged marriage to a cousin, who will have been slected for the business arrangement behind the relationship. Thankfully her own marriage, while having its issues is not as dramatic of that of her next youngest sister for example, female gender mutilation and husbands taking several wives are par for the course. Written in the first person, this book has a no nonsense style and can easily be completed in a couple of sessions; especially given the fact that it is difficult to put down once you start. As well as accomplishing its mission of letting the west know about this kind of practice, it does provide a fairly broad insight into the country itself, and a little of its neighbours. The 2004 edition of this book can be bought via Amazon in paperback for £5.59, representing 20% off the cover price and contains 304 pages. Or try Amazon market place or ebay for a copy for around £2

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              16.08.2004 19:22
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              I guess the majority of women wonder what it is like for the women behind the veils. You know what it is like, walking down the street and then suddenly you see half a dozen females walking towards you and sometimes looking pretty scary as they are dressed from top to toe in dark, heavy clothing with veils covering their faces. Often I have thought that they must be pretty stupid to let men and religion dictate to them in such a fashion. After all, it must be pretty unbearable to wear this clothing especially on hot summer days and I have always thought that their pretty faces are locked away behind the veils. Throughout my years I have heard bits and pieces about these veiled women but didn?t really give them much more thought until I read a review by Teacherofhooch (Linda) on the book called Princess by Jean Sasson. I was so intrigued by Linda?s review that I immediately ordered the book through Amazon.co.uk. It duly arrived and I started to read it that same evening. I was intrigued yet horrified by the reading of this book. I simply could not put it down. I had to keep reading and reading. First of all, Jean P Sasson is an American who has lived quite a few years in Saudi Arabia and therefore knew the people and the culture very well. She became very friendly with one of the Saudi princesses who asked her to write a book about her life. At first Jean said she couldn?t; she loved living in Saudi and she didn?t want anything to happen to the princess who would be in great danger should her true identity become known. But she read the diaries and felt that she had to tell the story of the life of a Royal Saudi Arabian princess. The diaries told of the heartache, happiness and fear of life behind the veil. The author does state that the words of the book are her own but the story is that of the life of the princess. To try and protect the identity of this very brave princess, Sasson has named her Sultana which is the Arabic name for a princess ? Sultana being the wife or consort of the Sultan. Sultana is a Saudi princess belonging to the House of Al Sa?ud, rulers of Saudi Arabia and is one of a family of 10 daughters and one son, although her mother did have more children who died. Throughout the book you will find that women are mainly thought of as breeding machines and that sons should be produced. A man can have up to 4 wives and each of these wives (together with their families) are kept in separate palaces and the man visits each wife in turn. The daughters of such unions, whether they are royal or not, are quite inconsequential and are treat as inferior human beings. The son is god in this land. Although Sultana lives in luxurious palaces and has never had to worry about where her food came from, she was still downtrodden and she came to resent and hate her brother Ali who could do no wrong in the eyes of their father. Sultana yearned for her father to notice her but he usually ignored her. She became a silent rebel. She hated the way girls and women were treat in her land and wanted freedom for all women but she knew she could not do this task alone but, in her way, she has tried and tried throughout her life for reformation for women. In Saudi Arabia, man is king and owns all his female relatives; his word is law and no female dare contradict him. When a girl reaches ?menses? ? periods to you and me ? then her father has to be told straightaway and she has to become veiled and he usually arranges a marriage for her. Sultana tells of such young girls being forced to marry old men and literally be their sex slaves. She tells of her sister Sara?s nightmare marriage to such a man and how Sara tries to commit suicide which brings shame onto the family. Sara is lucky because her husband divorces her and her father takes her back into the family. Should her father have disowned her then she would have nowhere to go and no means o f supporting herself. Sultana relates how lucky she was not to have been circumcised and recounts the stories told to her by her older sisters. I cried when I read this part, this practice is just so inhumane and vile and not necessary. Sultana?s father arranges a marriage for his rebel daughter and she knew there wasn?t anything she could do about this. It was heartbreaking reading of Sultana?s loss of a breast through cancer especially as she thought she had the love of her husband to guide her through her darkest days. Sultana was shocked and hurt by her husband?s statement to have a second wife and did something that could have quite easily cost her her life but I have really got to admire her for her actions. I will not go into detail because I don?t want to spoil the ?read? for anyone. This book really does show the grit and determination of one sole female from an early age to her present day. She has continually fought a kind of silent fight for her gender who have been so downtrodden. She wanted the world to know of the harsh ruling of men against women, about the totally unjust and sometimes fatal treatment given to women for a very slight misdemeanour. She wants to world to know that slowly Arabian women are starting to be educated although there are a limited number of professions that they are allowed to practice. She wants the world to know that this can happen to a Royal princess as well as a lowly Bedouin woman. Although her family are very rich and have all the trappings that this wealth brings; expensive jewellery, first class travel, multitudes of servants, the reader can see the invisible chains that surround the Saudi women. The book is very easy to read and as I read it I could imagine myself in the palace and seeing the various things Sultana describes. It was a kind of ?reality? book ? I felt transported to Saudi Arabia! Thank goodness it was just a feeling! As I read this book I had various emotions. Anger ? how could these women let themselves be treated in this way? I wouldn?t. But, as I read more and more, I started to understand how hard it is for people like Sultana to get the men to think of women as something other than a chattel and without intelligence. By keeping education from women, the men have the upper hand but I am sure that in these modern times, the grasp WILL eventually slip from the these men and their women, hopefully, will be free of these invisible chains that surround them. Sympathy for the thousands of ?battery? women producing child after child after child. I was really horrified that women could be thought of as mere child producers and my heart totally went to the young girls married off to the dirty old men who used them sexually in sadistic ways. Children as young as 11 and 12. Yes, they might have periods but they are still children but in the Muslim eyes they are women once they have their ?menses?. Admiration was another emotion I felt. Total admiration for Sultana for being so brave to give her diaries to the author so that the world could be told of life behind the veil. I would love to meet Sultana ? such a courageous and spirited woman who has remained in constant battle for her fellow females. Fascination at the way of life ?behind the veil? and ?behind palace walls?. Intriguing to say the least but quite humorous in parts. Despair at the fate of some young females at the hands of their fathers and uncles. Hatred for those fathers and uncles who could pass out such wicked sentences for such small misdemeanours. The book made me feel thankful that I was born ?free?, without those invisible chains surrounding Sultana and her people and made me realise that I shouldn?t pass judgement on other women without knowing their circumstances. I was shocked by some of the stories related and just hope that Sultana?s account of her li fe has accomplished what she hoped it would achieve. Somehow, I don?t think it will have. We in the Western world have read her book but will her fellow females in Saudi Arabia have read it? Will the menfolk have read her book? I somehow don?t think so. I would imagine that this book would have been banned in Saudi Arabia and the men would certainly not want to read a book by a Saudi princess. It would be an insult to their intelligence! Such is their arrogance! This book can be purchased from Amazon on www.amazon.co.uk and I recommend it to everyone. I think I paid £5.99 plus P&P. There are two follow up books called Daughters of Arabia in which Sultana turns the spotlight on to her two daughters and the third book is called Desert Royal. I will definitely be buying both of these books because I want to know how Sultana?s fight for freedom progresses. I should just mention that the book does give lots of information regarding maps of Saudi Arabia, history of the country and a glossary of the terms used eg. abaaya ? long black cloak worn over clothing.

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                07.09.2003 12:35
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                Princess by Jean P. Sassoon The title, Princess, is a translation of the feminine version of sultan, which is described in the Oxford Illustrated Dictionary as the mother, wife, daughter or concubine of a sultan. The book is the biography of a Saudi Arabian woman who comes from a wealthy and influential family. To protect her identity, for reasons which become obvious in the book, she is simply called Sultana, or Princess. She told her story to a foreign friend, Jean P. Sassoon, who wrote the biography for her. The size of the Saudi families of the wealthy and influential men would make it difficult to trace her. The difference in cultures is quite marked. On the one hand, the women have no status, they can suffer extreme punishment at the whim of their father or husband. While the behaviour of two young girls, Wafa and Nadia, (Chapter 8) is unwise even in our culture, the treatment they receive from their families would be illegal in my country, with lengthy jail terms as penalties. The men remain very remote from their families. Sultana, who as a child desires her father’s approval, does not see him very much, presumably because he is busy with other wives or concubines, and with the number of children he has, he simply does not have much time for each one. He is also a prominent member of the Saudi Arabian elite, and therefore would need to spend considerable time on business for the country or for himself. When Sultana does see her father, he favours her brother, the greedy and spiteful Ali who cannot even let his sister enjoy an apple in peace but has her severely punished (pp.25-26). Sultana bridles against the unfairness of the treatment she receives in comparison with her brother. Her desire for revenge lasts throughout the book, and her triumphs, which seem quite small to western eyes, are the only satisfaction she can get. She marries Kareem, the Saudi version of a sensitive new age guy, and while he is an improvement on many of the other husbands in the book, he falls a long way short of what a western woman would expect from a husband. The book is confronting if you have not been exposed to such extremely male dominated cultures before. Even if you have, it reminds you what can happen in a society once some people have absolute power over others. The book provides factual information in appendices, e.g., a glossary of terms which explains terms like abaaya, the cloak the women must wear. There is also a chronology of significant events in Arabian history, and the very revealing appendix on the laws of Saudi Arabia. That is a culture shock in itself, sounding like something from the Middle Ages rather than the twentieth century when the book was written. I wonder if they will still be the same at the end of the twenty-first century? The book is sometimes a set book in schools. It is an excellent, thought provoking book.

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                  26.06.2002 09:39
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                  It is difficult to appreciate the privileges that we have until we acknowledge the cruelty around the world. Before reading this indictment, admittedly, and I am shameful to say this ? I never really gave much thought about suffering that many many women endure from around the world. ?Princess? is a biography written by Jean P Sassoon about a Saudi Arabian Princess whose name has been changed to ?Sultana? to protect her identity. Jean P Sassoon writes as though she is the Princess, and despite the fact that the author of the book isn?t actually the character narrating the ?story?, Sassoon does a very good job of making the readers believe that it really was ?Princess Sultana? telling the story. The biography leads us from Sultana?s childhood to adulthood, and with that we witness the horrors experienced by Saudi women through her words, and the terror develops as we realise that despite being in the ?Royal? family, even princess are mistreated ? so think about the regular female Saudi. We get a real insight of what the Princess saw, and this book does teach you a great deal. There isn?t really a ?plot? as such for the novel, for it is a biography, so of course it just records her life. But her experiences are extraordinary for the Western readers that this book was aimed at. It is difficult o say much about the biography itself and pick out examples of her experiences ? because these should be left to be discovered by the reader. However the biography covers aspects of her childhood, her family life, her married life and all the other important periods of a woman?s life. With each case emphasising the horrific sense of Male Dominance in the Middle East. This book doesn?t just simply tell the story of this Princess?s life ? it is also VERY informative. The back of the book also includes: Appendix A ? Laws of Saudi Arabia (very informative and actually makes the book more comprehensible); Appendix B ? Glossary of Islamic words ( very helpful); Appendix C ? Chronology (provides dates etc for the history of Saudi Arabia). There are also brief maps of Saudi Arabia and its neighbouring countries. This book is packed with information ? and it seems as though the author really wanted to have a go at making this story as comprehensible as possible for the reader, even if they are literally in a different world to this Princess, she wants them to be able to relate by providing so much information, and I think it is great how she doesn?t just shuff all that into the story, rather she separates them from the actual story and gives the readers a choice as to whether or not they actually WANT to know all this information. I think this is a fantastic book, it is really eye opening and gives a reminder to the World that everything isn?t as pretty as you may think, for example, a Saudi Princess may appear to be happy, covered in jewellery and expensive garments, but behind the walls of the palace, no one really knows what goes on. I knew NOTHING about the treatment of women in the Middle East before I picked up this book, but now it seems like I was there watching it all happening. This book is not a book aimed at feminism, the language used does not seem to be persuasive nor argumentative, it seems that all Sultana wants is for people to realise that there are many many women around the world suffering ? she doesn?t want any fancy female

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                    23.06.2002 20:02
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                    Although this is one of the best books that I have ever read I also found it very sad and at times shocking. It is a true, biographical, story of a Saudi Arabian Princess and, even with all her wealth she is still a prisoner of the Saudi Arabian way of life. I was aware that the women in Arabia have little say in the important aspects of lives but this really opened my eyes as to how much they are downtrodden by the male population of Saudi Arabia, even for a princess surrounded my so much wealth it is hard to comprehend. Her mother was married to her father in an arranged marriage when her father was 20 and her mother was 13. By the time her mother was 23 she had borne 11 children. The book starts with the princess at an early age and documents her life through to her late thirties. It amazed me that when a female child is born in Saudi Arabia their birth goes unregistered, as does their death, therefore there are no records of the exhistance of many women. So, when a female does "wrong" it is up to her family to decide on a punishment, which may easily result in death. This book is full of this type of information, so not only is it a life story, it gives you an insight into another culture and religion. I don't want to go into too much detail or I may spoil the story for you but suffice it to say many Western readers will, no doubt, find this account interesting, shocking and very sad. It made me, a woman of the West, realise just how lucky I am to live in a democracy.

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                  • Product Details

                    An insight into the role of women in Islam, throught the eyes of a Saudi Arabian princess.