Author explores the Muslim woman's search for love

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2007

CHICAGO - Finding love in Saudi Arabia is practically impossible, especially for young Muslim women.

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That's the premise 25-year-old author Rajaa Alsanea tackles in her novel, "Girls of Riyadh," which has already created a stir throughout the Arab world.

"In Saudi, there are a lot of restrictions," she said during an interview at the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Dentistry. Alsanea is pursuing a masters degree in oral sciences before returning to Riyadh to live with her family, practice dentistry and continue writing fiction.

"We're living in the 21st century and there are still traditions from the 19th century and that's just insane," she said. "You have the Internet ... and freedom of speech. You have modern schools and modern hospitals. And everything around you is digital. And yet you have to go through all this pain when you want to get married."

Alsanea, dressed in black scrubs with a pink long-sleeved undershirt and matching hijab - a Muslim woman's head scarf that signifies a strict code of behavior - said she wrote the book as a criticism of her homeland.

"It's my obligation to try to fix things in Saudi. I'm not trying to fix the government or Islam. What I'm trying to fix is mentality, how people think. It's the traditions," she said. "These traditions, either (need to) loosen up or we should get rid of them."

The novel, her first published work, examines the love lives of four 20-something Muslim women in upper-class Saudi Arabia. In the book, an anonymous writer sends a weekly e-mail to thousands of Saudis. The e-mails tell the stories of the writer's friends - Gamrah, Michelle, Lamees and Sadeem - and chronicles their courtships, which are tied in to family approval, social class and religion.

"Some people say, 'Just settle and get married somewhere else in another country.' That's not an option for me. I'm Saudi and people have to accept that," she said. "It's my duty to shed the light on the things that I don't approve of. I want to create a better future for my kids in Saudi."

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