She has been in the land of desert of Saudi Arabia, worked in King Faisal Hospital, but now she's also devoting herself for women's freedom through literature. Her trilogy books (Princess, Daughters of Arabia, and Princess Sultana's Circle) have turned out a huge break for woman freedom awareness around the globe and deliver major changes in Saudi and other women in the world to see the bias reality of freedom.
Not many understand and know the real life in Saudi. Jean Sasson has been interviewed by Miss Reith Jerevinan on how she met the Princess, start writing the book, her concerns, her point-of-view on Saudi, and...her new project.
1. Tell us how did you finally meet the princess and got close to each other?
I was living in Saudi Arabia from September 7, 1978 and although I met a number of the royals through my boss (a Saudi who was the head of the hospital) I did not meet Princess Sultana until after I left the hospital.
In those days, a lot of the younger royals (of which she was one) really believed that soon women would be free to make many choices. While they would not take off their veils and appear at a Saudi function, they did attend a few foreign Embassy functions. I met Princess Sultana at a foreign embassy function in Jeddah (all the embassies were there rather than the capital of Riyadh for a few years.) She had quite a group around her as she was a princess, and she was very beautiful. She and I liked each other from the start but it took several years of slowly getting to know the other before we could be called friends. (Nowadays the royals don't have much to do with foreigners in their country, but in those early days, it was different. All Saudis I met were extremely curious and very friendly, particularly about Americans in their land. I am sorry when I hear that foreigners no longer have the opportunity to meet Saudis of any of the three groups (royals, professional educated class, and the bedouin class).
2. Who came up with the idea to write her story into a book first?
The princess did. In fact, I was AGAINST it because I still lived in the kingdom and knew I would get KICKED out. Although she was going to remain unknown, it would have been very difficult for me to remain unknown. So, she started talking about my writing her life story in 1985, but I did not do it until after I left the kingdom, and my ex husband and his wife left. Although I had been writing a little here and there plus talking to her a lot about it, I really did not get serious until after my first book, THE RAPE OF KUWAIT, was a big success in 1992, as well as feeling safe for those that I cared about.
3. Does other family members know about your friendship with her?
Yes, her older sister, known as Sara in the book and her oldest daughter, known as Maha in the book. Later, after the first book was discovered and we did the second, I met three more of her sisters, the ones who were not angry at her about the book.
|Jean Sasson in Saudi Arabia|
4. Some foreign media (outside US) see you as a propaganda, what would you say about this?
I always laugh and reply, "Propaganda for who?" Certain not propaganda for any government, for my own government as well as Arab governments do not like the kind of book that creates discontent with the establishment. It is well know that the American government is extremely close to the Saudi government, so for sure they would not be happy with me. So, most criticism comes from people who have never read the books, and know nothing of the Middle East or the relationships between the USA and the governments in those countries. There have been the ill informed who said RAPE was propaganda to get the USA involved in fighting Iraq, but the fact of the matter is that the book was not published until January 1992 when the USA was already in the battle. Also, the USA government didn't even know about the book. I then heard that MAYADA,DAUGHTER OF IRAQ was also propaganda for the second war, but as a matter of fact, the USA invaded Iraq in April 2003 and MAYADA was not even released until October 2003.
And, the USA never knew about the book and has never expressed interest in it one way or another. All are personal human stories who are written with any political purpose in mind -- just the telling of lives and how they are affected by various cultures biased against women or what it is like living under a brutal dictatorship. Most people who make the statements you mention are simply ignorant of when the books were published and the fact they couldn't have affected anything, due to the timing of publication.
5. You and Sultana did a great noble cause on women empowerment. Tell me your hope for Saudi Arabia women and the whole nation?
FROM JEAN: We want nothing more than for every woman to live in freedom and to be able to make her own choices without terrific punishments coming down on her head. To be able to live in dignity is a basic right for all humans, but many people on our earth do not enjoy that simple freedom.
6. What do you think of the Obedient Wife Club that roots in Saudi, but now emerges to Malaysia and Indonesia?
I am appalled. It is a club that keeps women in a dark place where men make all the rules and women simply live to obey. But, I did find during my years of travel that so often women are the problem, that many mothers and sisters help to keep their daughters and sisters beat down and oftentimes even help to punish the woman. In fact, in some honor killings which have occurred in the USA, the mothers have been found guilty of assisting the father to kill their daughter -- often by holding down the girl while the father stabs her to death. So, it is an entire cultural problem. I've had female friends tell me that they can't do this or do that, etc., because the community will scorn them...
Generally the men abuse women because they like to be in charge and be the big boss. With women, they are generally afraid of what society will say if they do not conform perfectly to what the culture expects of them. But women must learn to speak out when other women are being harmed. I know it is hard to be brave and the consquences can be dire, but it has to start somewhere when one woman steps up and SAYS NO!
7. Describe the life of Saudi people in 3 words...
I cannot describe the life of Saudi people in three words. The closest I can come is "The Saudi life is one of the most complex and complicated on the earth."
And for sure, there are many happy aspects about the life, and many tragedies. And, with all people, there are the good and the bad and the happy and the sad...
8. What came to your mind when you finally started to write a book?
Well, it's difficult to be "general" about this, but I am always filled with anticipation and actually enjoy the writing process. Perhaps because I am an organized person and when I'm writing, my day is very rigid -- go to work at 9AM -- take a break at lunch -- write again until dinner time -- take a break -- proofread at night... So, I have no time for anything else much. Also, I never think about a WHOLE book, instead, I think of the 5 pages I must get on that day. Otherwise, I would be so discouraged I might not be able to get going!
9. What's your next plan in literary world?
I have five books ready to write. It's just a matter of finding the time now. I will be writing my own life story, or at least, tell my adventures and all the wonderful people I have met and come to know during my travels around the world since 1978.
10. I consider you as brave author...
But have you ever mistreated by the Saudi, before and after you wrote the book?
Not really. Certainly, the entire time I lived there, I was treated VERY NICE by everyone I met. In fact, my personal experiences were so very different from the way native women were treated, that people will be surprised when I write about my life, vs the Saudi woman's life. (Of course, many Saudi women live very happy lives.) After writing the book, I lost a few friends (mainly male friends) but no one was what I would call ugly -- they were hurt with me and disappointed that someone they liked actually wrote a book that highlighted the mistreatment of women in their society. I can really understand that to tell you the truth.
People always defend what the know...
11. Any tips for newbie writers that still cope with fear to write about ugly truth?
Well, I have the kind of personality that really does not feel "fear" of another person, so for me, it has not been difficult to keep on writing stories that anger some people. All I can say is this: As human beings, we not only have the RIGHT to intervene in human problems, but when someone is being harmed, we have the obligation. It's better to stick your nose in a situation and help, even if you get into hot water, than to cower and walk away and allow a bad situation to continue.
Perhaps I got used to doing that as a child when I would always get involved if I witnessed someone mistreating an animal. So, it was not a big leap to carry on to human beings who are being mistreated.
12. Maybe, you can share some of your recent news on your life or your next books/projects?
12. Maybe, you can share some of your recent news on your life or your next books/projects?
I think I answered this (about books/projects) in #9, above. Sorry, I got ahead of myself! As far as recent news, I have a new cat named Paris that I love a lot. Other than playing a lot with her (she is SO sweet-beautiful black with green eyes) I am just working hard these days trying to finish book #10...
Do you see any changes from Saudi, in the past and in the present? (From Rafika, Indonesia)
Hi Rafika! Thanks for your question. Yes, in fact, there are enormous change going on in Saudi Arabia, and most of the change is for the good.
I must say that King Abdullah is a brave soul and he does what he thinks is right for the kingdom and for the women of the kingdom and he goes against the most radial of the clerics when he needs to do so. However, there is good news and bad news: Women are being educated in huge numbers, yet, so few women still work outside the home. (Something like 5%!) Many women are allowed to meet their husbands before marriage (under supervision of course) yet there are still very young women being married to much older men and sometimes, against their will! (The most shameful thing in the world, in my opinion.)
The internet is gaining ground which opens up a lot of freedom. There is talk about women being able to drive, yet a woman was recently arrested for driving (and her son was taken away from her -- but, her freedom was restored and her son returned when she promised not to drive again...)
There is much more open talk about the issue of women's rights, something that NEVER happened when I lived there. So, you see, change is coming. I always thought it would because the kingdom values education and when people are educated, they are able to work through the challenges of change...
"I care about people. When I see injustice, I have to jump in." - Jean Sasson
About the Author
Jean Sasson traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1978 to work in royal hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She has written 9 books set in Mid East and is currently writing 5 new books. Some of her big hits are Princess Trilogy and Growing Up Bin Laden which attract many attention from around the world. She has been around the globe for three times and ever been into 62 countries.