Saturday, March 31, 2007

True Story? Riiiight....

I finished reading "Princess Sultana's Daughters" by Jean Sasson last night. It's the follow-up of "Princess," both of which are supposed to be exposes written by a Saudi princess, alias "Sultana," about how totally restricted the lives of Saudi women are. I read the first book more than a year ago, and for all I knew everything in it was true, though a few things seemed tacked on, to make men look even worse than they already had been portrayed. This book, however, is just too pat: For example, one daughter rejects God and has a mental breakdown while the other becomes very religious and complains that her family is too liberal. I had doubts when the first daughter's psychiatrist tells the parents that the daughter has told him that she has had a lesbian relationship, because no ethical psychiatrist would do this. Later, when "Sultana" describes the second daughter becoming an Islamic fundamentalist while she also loves lap dogs, I stopped believing in the book altogether.

A quick perusal of the reviews of this book doesn't show a lot of other people doubting that any of it is true, though the few that do actually explain why they think the books are false. I'm rather surprised, post-James Frey, that more people aren't questioning this, though it must be said that both books precede "A Million Little Pieces" by more than ten years.

In the end I felt really manipulated by Sasson. Women's rights are high on the list of concerns about Saudi Arabia (and other places in the Arab world). However, I wonder if she isn't just trotting out these stories for the sensational effect, stories which non-Muslims would totally "buy" because it fits so many of the stereotypes we already hold.

The last time I read a book that caught me like this was "The Kite Runner." That was my fault, though. I tend to read the same kinds of books for period of time, because of where I end up in the library. I'll read a bunch of authors whose last names begin with E because I was looking for a Louise Erdrich novel, and I'll read a bunch of memoirs in a row because one day I was in the Biographies section. I had been reading memoirs when someone loaned me "The Kite Runner" and was so totally sucked in that until the absolutely unbelievable coincidence I never read the back flap, which starts, " Hosseini's stunning debut novel..."

That time I felt silly, not cheated. I know in the future I will look closely at books that purport to be "as told to" the author.

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