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Picks and Pans Review: Princess: a True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia

updated 09/14/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jean P. Sasson

They're raised for breeding, are well fed and cared for, but they can be stoned to death for perceived misbehavior. They live in astounding luxury but as young as 13 are sold into marriage. Under robes and veils, they wear glamorous clothing. They're Saudi women—indeed, princesses.

Princess is a mind-boggling look at the everyday life of a contemporary woman in the 21,000-member-strong royal family. For 10 years author Sasson has lived in Saudi Arabia, where she wrote The Rape of Kuwait and befriended the princess she here calls Sultana. The youngest of 10 daughters and one son (who was worshiped as a virtual household god), Sultana was a spirited rebel. Her father (with four wives in four identical palaces) forced Sultana's beautiful, artistic 16-year-old sister to many a 62-year-old man who abused her. Sultana too faced an arranged marriage, but she was lucky. Kareem was young, handsome and relatively liberated—until he announced he would take a second wife.

What's so shocking to Western eyes is how commonplace this treatment is. Women can't vote, can't drive. Sultana was allowed to earn a master's degree but not to use it. When, after a love affair with a foreigner ended, one of Sultana's friends returned to her homeland, she was punished for life by being confined to a padded, window-less cell. Princess is absolutely riveting and profoundly sad. For Sultana's daughters, the future looks no brighter. (Morrow, 820)

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