Rajaa Alsanea | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Rajaa Alsanea 

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The path to love is especially rocky in conservative Saudi Arabia, with its segregation of the sexes, arranged marriages, double standard, and religious police at the ready to arrest unrelated young couples out in public together. In The Girls of Riyadh, which some have compared to Sex and the City, Rajaa Alsanea details the hopes and heartbreak of four young women from the "velvet," or upper, class as they seek true love. The story's told by an anonymous, annoyingly self-conscious fifth friend who sends out weekly chapters about her friends' doings via e-mail. Though the women are not particularly deep or admirable, the book is absorbing. When it was published, in a mix of classical and colloquial Arabic, in Lebanon two years ago, it created great controversy--though by Western standards it's tame to the point of vagueness. Saudi Arabia temporarily banned The Girls of Riyadh for its mentions of premarital sex, homosexuality, and drinking and for its frank exploration of the desires and frustrations of young women who have everything--except power over their own lives. Alsanea, a 25-year-old Saudi Arabian-trained dentist who's now a second-year grad student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, is considering offers for a TV series or Hollywood film. a Fri 7/27, 7:30 PM, Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark, 773-769-9299, womenandchildrenfirst.com. --S.L. Wisenberg

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