Book Review: Saudi Arabia – according to “City of Veils”

I’m reading a captivating book I picked up by chance at library closing time.  Whilst it’s fiction, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about Saudi Arabia and the Islamic culture.  According to the story in City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris.

Not the same cover I'm used to
Not the same cover I’m used to

– women can’t work unless married.  Inevitably they lie, and if they are found out, stop working

– women get a trousseau upon marriage, filled with countless under garments.  How bizarre when the rest of a woman other than family and a wife are covered in scarves and robes.

– there are ‘summer marriages’ – travelling business men marry a co-wife and travel with her.  Because they are married, no harm, no foul. They divorce after the summer.  The religious clerics think this is preferable to prostitution, though it is similar, as women are often paid by a new car or a villa

– women get driven places, by brothers or cousins.  What and how these men manage it, I’m not sure.  The women will travel as a passenger in the back seat!  This is juztaposed in the book with the women who work with the police being allowed to sit in the front, which is a shock to the women to be seen as ‘equal’

– one female character married her mother’s friend’s son, for about 2.5 months.  After the mother’s death, the marriage dissolves.  The woman returns to living with her brother – and essentially being ‘kept’ by him, but she still returns to the ex husband for money too.

– women often are left standing when the men sit face to face (ie when two people come to visit someone in an office).  That just seems perverse but awkward too!

– men don’t make eye contact with women, often looking above them, at their ‘halo’

– there’s men’s and women’s sitting rooms within homes.  It’s common to take guests their (segregated by sex).  The Arab characters find it strange that the two American female characters both take them into the kitchen.

– a man invited to dine with a family will not actually get to ‘see’ the woman, except perhaps if she comes to serve tea! They stay in their sitting room, and the women in the kitchen with the children.

– the story gives the perception that Arab wives provide martial obligations on a daily basis. If this is true, I’m thankful that such an obligation isn’t extended more widely…

Overall, I’m enchanted by other cultures.  I’m blown away that I manage 60 (was 75 before redundancies) men and I’m a woman.  Who wears what I like (but chose to be conservative with work wear).  In another part of the world, TODAY, women have none of these liberties.  How amazing that globalisation hasn’t totally caused homogenization (is that the right word?)

Isn’t the internet grand – I was too lazy to go to the bedroom to check the author, so googled, and was delighted to find there’s another two books by this author which I’ll promptly want to read.

Also, those who blog book reviews, do you have a ‘weirdness’ about wanting to post the exact cover picture of your book, not an alternative one?  My cover images was more orangey, not at all the one I put above.

10 Replies to “Book Review: Saudi Arabia – according to “City of Veils””

  1. I search for the exact book cover of the one I read. Never thought of it as a weirdness. Oh no. Another one to add to my list of weird.

  2. Yes – I do have that 'weirdness' of having to get the exact cover to post!

    I got onto a roll earlier this year reading a number of books in a row about the Middle East and Islamic culture (all on my Goodreads.) I'm on the look-out now for books on how Islamic culture changes (or stays the same) in the west. It's just interesting since I live in a part of Melbourne with a relatively high proportion of Muslim families. Many go to the local Catholic schools as well (lol!)

    1. Even more interesting was the female preacher at church today and then to be cornered by a passer by asking why it is that 'the Pope has to have a penis' – i let him know we were Anglicans, and certainly within my parish we were accepting of females being priests. I was a little confused by this stranger coming to me when I was just aiming to thank the guest preacher.

      I'm now very keen to read her other two books to learn more!

      1. Oops I should quickly qualify that my 'lol' isn't meant to be somehow derogatory (I know you wouldn't take it that way – but others might.) I lol'led because the local Muslim families I know go to the same Catholic schools as everyone I know locally, and the girls go on to the Catholic school I went to as a kid for a time. A lot of what I chat about with Muslim families locally is 'quirks of Catholicism' and how much we have in common with schooling. It just seems ironic, hence my lol.

        (We haven't got as far as 'why does the Pope have to have a penis?' but it would be a good come-back to people asking 'why are you wearing your hijab in the Milkbar?' which sometimes happens.)

        1. Of course – understand.

          It would be a great come back! I only learnt the Hail Mary a few years ago when I joined a more 'catholic' Anglican parish. I don't even 'get' all the stuff we do 😉

  3. That sounds like a good book. Saudi Arabia seems to have a unique culture with its monarchy, not being democratic, its military strength, and its Muslim culture. I know you have visited countries in that area.

    Not only do I always search out the same cover/edition of the book that I read, but I also change the artwork in my iTunes so it matches the edition of a CD or other music format that I have owned 🙂

    1. Saudi Arabia seems super topical this week with the Hajj (and having Al Jalzerra on TV whilst I was away). It's the more strict version of Egypt and UAE which I've visited.

      I'm pleased to see I'm not alone with the cover 'thinginess'

  4. I knew many of these from reading National Geographic, but it doesn't make them any less shocking to read again . . very difficult to imagine living so differently than I currently do. I read a book that took place in frontier America during the mid 1800s where the husband regularly took advantage of his wife when they went to bed because it was his "right" – but thankfully he learned by the end of the book it was better for everyone involved if he waited for the nights when his wife was a willing participant. Hopefully that happens in Saudi marriages too!

    1. I've never read National Geographic – but I love the versions of cable TV they have – people and places. I always feel like I'm learning – unlike back to back episodes of 'Keeping up with the Kardashians' on E!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.