A Writer’s Inspiration for Unveiling

Dariyah

My favorite book while growing up in Bakersfield, California, was 1001 Arabian Nights. I loved the locale of vast cities, deserts, caves, and seas. I loved the genies and magic carpets and magic lamps, but I equally loved the cleverness and cunning with which it took a character to succeed. When I landed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at the age of twenty-two, as a new bride to an American working in Riyadh, I felt like I had stepped into that wonderful imaginary childhood world. Of course, the political tide in 1979 was unique. Saudi Arabia was dominant in oil production and an ally of the United States. Yet, the Western media continually touted the backwardness of the country in several arenas, including women’s rights. It seemed like the only books in English that I could get my hands on revealed the negative side of this culture, until I later discovered the texts of Richard Francis Burton, Charles M. Doughty, Gertrude Bell, and many other Westerners who had traveled to this mystical setting long before the discovery of oil. They described the beauty that I witnessed—in the landscape and in the people. The Saudi families I met were hospitable, welcoming, polite, and as curious about me as I was about them. The women were vivacious, intelligent, strong, and devout.

 

As time passed in Riyadh, I grew to love the culture and the people more each day. No country had undergone such a fast-paced change. I met three vastly different levels of society: the elderly Saudis had grown up with desert codes of honor, simple needs; the next generation grew up amidst the oil boom and instant wealth, but were instilled with the old codes of honor from their parents; youths were forgetting the old codes of honor, instead preferring fast, expensive cars and the other trappings of newfound wealth. This struggle to move forward without losing the precious gifts of the past enthralled me. I am still in awe of how well the Saudis have navigated through this era of prosperous upheaval. I understood why Saudi society seemed to take two steps forward and another back. Their journey has made me see my own American landscape anew—to view the many ways we have struggled, shooting forward, it seems at times, before considering the consequences to future generations. If we put ourselves under the microscope, there is as much to tout as there is to criticize. It is our unique struggle, our unique landscape, and our unique society that make us “Americans.”

 

Mismak Fortress, Riyadh

My goal in writing this novel was to remain true to Saudi culture. Through Sara, I hoped to tell a story that captured a unique time of social upheaval, and her youthful struggle to remain true to her Saudi heart and to navigate through infinite changes to her country.

 

 

My time in Saudi Arabia was spent amidst luscious sand dunes, along the craggy escarpment, inside of ancient ruins, under lush date palms, camping in the desert, diving in the Red Sea, shopping in the souk, and sitting on carpets filled with platters of food amidst Saudi families who made me a welcome guest among them. I treasure those memories, and I wish the Saudi people well in their journey.

 

Riyadh Today

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