Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson


Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

Ali slapped me to the ground, but I declined to hand over the shiny red apple just given to me by the Pakistani cook.


Princess describes the life of Sultana Al Sa’ud, a princess in the royal house of Saudi Arabia. Hidden behind her black veil, she is a prisoner, jailed by her father, her husband and her country.

Sultana tells of appalling oppressions, everyday occurrences that in any other culture would be seen as shocking human rights violations: thirteen-year-old girls forced to marry men five times their age, young women killed by drowning, stoning, or isolation in the “women’s room.”


I’m a bit ambivalent about this book. Mainly because I’m not sure how much of it is really true. After all, right at the beginning, the author says that Sultana is not the princess’ real name and she changed it to protect her.

However, then she goes on to describe her life in great detail with many events described that should it make almost impossible for the people involved not to realize who is telling the story. So I guess the book has to be read with a slightly critical eye.

In 1991 our extended family consisted of nearly 21,000 members. Of this number, approximately a thousand are princes or princesses who are direct descendants of the great leader, King Abdul Aziz.

Nonetheless, it is a fascinating and shocking look at life as a woman in Saudi Arabia. Sultana is a member of the royal family and has many privileges and lacks nothing as far as material wealth is concerned.

But her royal status does not help her when it comes to other things. She has no say about her life, no rights to speak of. It is the men in her family that can decide about her life – and her death. It is even worse for women not of the royal family.

Those parts were very hard to read. The unfairness of it all, the randomness of the punishments and the utter helplessness of these women.

We sat disbelieving when he told us that Nadia was going to be drowned in her family’s swimming-pool, by her father, on the following morning, Friday, at ten o’clock. Father said that Nadia’s entire family would witness her execution.

I don’t know if the characters described are real people but I do think that events like those described happen in Saudi Arabia. And the question is: how much has changed since the book was written. How many rights do women in Saudi Arabia have?


A fascinating, albeit shocking look at life as a woman in Saudi Arabia.


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