Friday, December 11, 2009

Princess Sultana's Daughters by Jean Sasson

This non-fiction international best seller (Van Nuys: The Sasson Corporation, 2001. 212 pages, $12.95) is second in the trilogy of the biography of an Arabian princess, Sultana, who is suppressed by men all around her. She decides to take a stand and show the world how men hide behind religion and justify terrible treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. This princess is one of 11 children in a royal family that has uncountable wealth because of oil. Her one brother, Ali, is the source of much trouble because he views women strictly as objects of sexual play just like his father. "A girl possesses nothing but a veil and a tomb." –Saudi Arabian proverb. Sultana's goal is to change this perspective of women in Saudi Arabia by telling the world her story and to try and inspire women to take a stand for their rights.

Her husband supports her views and they both try to create a sexism-free household so their daughters do not feel like they are less than their brother, Abdullah, or any other male. Sultana describes many instances where women are mistreated by the men in their families. One example is her sister who was locked up in the "women's room" for fifteen years because she associated with men not in her family and her uncle considered that a "crime". She died because she was shut off from the world for no good reason just like many other innocent women. Another example was Sultana's childhood friend who was put to death by her own father for a crime against his "honor" for sexual misconduct. Also, a young girl Sultana's daughter knew was drowned by her father simply because she was a girl and not a boy and this supposedly ruined his reputation. Due to these horrific executions, Sultana decided to go against her culture and fight for women's rights.

Throughout the book, the author connects Sultana's current life of struggling with her family to her past life of trauma that has made her who she is today; an outspoken woman who advocates women's rights despite criticism. Sultana is first inspired by her close friend's death but she gains momentum in destroying sexism as the book unfolds and horrors are revealed. This momentum begins with Sultana discovering something very disturbing about her daughter, Maya. Maya confessed she had witnessed her friend's father taking the virginity of young girls simply because he could. She became a lesbian due to the fact she no longer trusts men because she was scarred.
The imagery the author paints about Sultana's struggles is powerful and enables the reader to feel how helpless and undermined women in Saudi Arabia feel. She is my role model because I believe society has built up the male stature and it needs to change before our world goes spiraling downhill because of corruption.

This book also moved me greatly because I did not even realize extreme sexism still existed. I just thought veils were for religious purposes and not a condemnation of the female population. I have always been interested in female rights. I even did my junior research paper on Sojourner Truth and how she led the women's rights movement. I had assumed after black people earned their rights and Title IX was passed women were almost equal. But this book showed me sexism is still a major problem, even in the 21st century. My eyes were truly opened to the meaning of freedom.

In America, we take our freedoms of speech, press and the right for legal representation for granted. In Saudi Arabia, the men are backed up by the church and the Koran (which is misinterpreted), so women have no chance to survive without a man in their life because they must have a male escort when they travel in public. Usually in divorces, material goods and children are divided up evenly and the process takes awhile. In Saudi Arabia, however, a man can divorce his wife, no questions asked, three times before the law intervenes. If a woman is abused, she will not divorce her husband because she fears losing her children. Most women want to divorce their husband because they are forced to marry the highest bidder even if they have no feelings at all for the bachelor, if you can even call the men bachelors. Men jump from wife to wife when they get bored and want more action. These conflicts are discussed in detail which would be very disturbing for younger children.

Besides the gross details, this story is a very interesting read. The intense vocabulary, which is Islamic based, is not explained well though, so you have to do a lot of inferring to determine the meaning. Do not get me wrong though, this book is not a boring history book; it is real life situations that are happening at this very moment. I believe this story also opens the reader's mind to the possibility that even wealth cannot please some people if they do not have the right to even love the people they want or to protect themselves in a court of law.

The core of this book focuses on encouraging women to stand up for their rights, even if it means death. This story can appeal to anyone because it is not hard to empathize for these women due to the fact their very lives are in danger if they upset their "masters". It was interesting to discover that moral conflicts and horrific deeds go on in this world unspoken because women are too afraid to stand up for themselves. I strongly believe people deserve to have their own free will. This is a common belief around the world and I feel if you believe in free will, then you can connect to this story and let it touch your heart.

Annette E.

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