Book: Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening

This book is an honest account of the life of the author, a Saudi activist – Manal Al-Sharif. The first chapters of the book tell the story of how she was thrown in jail for driving in Saudi Arabia. The following sections detail her life from childhood up to the time of her imprisonment. The last legs of the books are about her release from detention and life as an activist. I was a little bit impatient to read about her growing up as I wanted to know how she would fare after her incarceration. Nonetheless, it was mind-blowing to read about the horrifying treatments of women in Saudi Arabia through Manal’s struggle through education, marriage, career and life. Kudos to the author for being honest about her time as an extremist and how she transitioned from that period of her time to being a leading voice for gender equality and other causes in the country.

Some interesting details and quotes from the book:

The system says that no one can be arrested for a minor crime between the hours of sunset and sunrise

In Saudi society, a woman needs her official guardian (usually her father or husband) or a mahram – a close male family relative whom she cannot marry, such as a father, brother, uncle or even a son – to accompany her on any official business.

Even a woman in labor will not be admitted into a hospital without her guardian or at least a mahram. Police cannot enter a home during a robbery, and firefighters are forbidden from entering a home during a fire or medical emergency if a woman is inside but does not have a mahram present.

In my world, physical activity – running, jumping, climbing – was forbidden to girls because we might lose our virginity. The only games we were permitted to play involved nothing more than singing songs and holding hands.

At that time, there were no personal computers for typing my story, no home printers to print it. Since all the riyals I’d saved from my pocket money during the year went to buy books, I didn’t have the money for a new notebook, so I started tearing out the empty pages from the notebooks I had used at school the previous year. I carefully cut out the subject and date line at the top of each page. I drafted each chapter in pencil until I was satisfied and then carefully wrote over the words in blue pen. And because I loved drawing, I began to create cartoons of the people and events in my story. My greatest moment of pride was when I set down my pen after writing “The End”.

While the traditional niqab left a slit for the eyes, we were now supposed to lower our head scarves to block out this opening entirely. It was hard to get used to it on my journey to and from school. The full face covering made me almost blind, and I stumbled every day on the steps of our building. One time when I fell, our neighbors’ sons watched and laughed.

As teenagers, we also heard extensive preaching on the requirement to obey one’s husband. This, we were informed, would serve as one way that a woman could guarantee her entry to paradise. Preachers stressed the necessity of women gaining their husbands’ permission for everything, whether visiting family, cutting their hair or even performing voluntary religious fasting. They emphasized the need for women’s complete subordination to their husband in all facets of life. As one Saudi sheikh said during a lecture, “If your husband has an injury filled with pus, and you lick this pus from his wound, this is still less than what he can rightfully expect”

A young man could talk on the phone with a girl for months without even knowing what she looked like.

I couldn’t believe this was happening in Saudi Arabia. If a girl in Mecca was found to be conducting a romantic relationship – even if it consisted only of phone calls and messages – she would face severe beatings from the men in her family, not to mention very likely risk a lifelong confinement inside her home

And he said the words “You are divorced”. Under Islamic law, uttering those words is all that is required for a man to divorce his wife

In 2007, when I got divorced, the policy was for children to reside largely with the mother until they turned seven. At age seven, a girl would then be taken to her father’s house to live. A boy, however, would be asked if he wished to remain with his mother; the choice was his. Once he became a teenager, that boy would often become his mother’s male guardian. He would have the final say over whether she could work or go out, or must stay in. If a woman remarries, she immediately loses all custody of her children….A man, however, can remarry at will or even take a second wife, with no impact on his claim to his children.

The rain begins with a single drop

Book: A thousand splendid suns

The book is a captivating and breathtaking story with the violent events in Afghanistan from the 1970s to 2000s in the background. The two main stories surround two female characters: Mariam and Laila. The author walks us through the injustice that the two protagonists had to suffer. The first 25% of the book was about Mariam, followed by the section on Laila and later their life together, which accounts for half of the book.

As a Vietnamese, I almost have to apply for a visa to every country that I want to travel to. It means a great deal of paperwork, time and money involved. Sometimes, it frustrates the hell out of me as I look with envy to many of my friends from the US, Canada and EU whose nationalities allow them to travel almost everywhere the very next day with little trouble. However, I felt tremendously grateful for the life I have whenever I read books on North Korea or books like this one. They really make me look at things from a perspective. Somewhere around the world, the life I am leading is a luxury to many and something I should cherish.

It’s horrifying and unthinkable to know that women in some countries in the world are treated so badly, in the way that the two characters were in the book. For all the scientific advancements we have had, we still have much on this front to solve. I hope that one day, women everywhere will be liberated and given as much freedom as men are and have always been.

If you are looking for a great page-turner, I highly recommend this. Below are a few beautiful passages I appreciate a great deal

“And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion. And whenever those twin poisonous flowers began to sprout in the parched land of that field, Mariam uprooted them. She uprooted them and ditched them before they took hold.”

“Miriam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Miriam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings.

“She would never leave her mark on Mammy’s heart the way her brothers had, because Mammy’s heart was like a pallid beach where Laila’s footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed, swelled and crashed. ”

“Marriage can wait. Education cannot…Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.” 

She sat on the chair instead, hands limp in her lap, eyes staring at nothing, and let her mind fly on. She let it fly on until it found the place, the good and safe place, where the barley fields were green, where the water ran clear and the cottonwood seeds danced by the thousands in the air; where Babi was reading a book beneath an acacia and Tariq was napping with his hands laced across his chest, and where she could dip her feet in the stream and dream good dreams beneath the watchful gaze of gods of ancient, sun-bleached rock.”