Here I am in Saudi Arabia, having a lovely day exploring. Wearing the man’s Saudi headdress to protect my head from the boiling sun!
Recently I received a lot of letters from readers wanting to know about my books and how I came to write books about the Middle East, along with other questions about my love of animals. Thus I decided to do a blog rather than respond individually to letters. I hope this works!
Thanks to all who care about the books I write, and about my heroines. I thank you, and they thank you!
A Note from Author Jean Sasson:
So many people ask me why do I care so much about the plight of women of the world?
The answer is simple: because I can’t help it. I grew up in the United States, in a tiny town down South. In my daily experience, women enjoyed full freedom to do as they pleased. During those early years, it was beyond my imagining that women might be discriminated against. But from a young age, I noticed mankind’s occasional unthinking mistreatment of other animals. Such cruelty broke my heart, and I took aggressive action to aid animals in need. Mischievous boys who thought it amusing to tie a bag of rocks to a cat’s tail soon learned to avoid me. I cared for a number of animals of my own, including some rather eccentric ones, such as a pet chicken named Prissy that I taught to walk on a lead. Another pet chicken, named Ducky, accompanied me like my little shadow and brought me endless joy. I had a number of cats and, when I grew older, I got my first doggie, a black cocker spaniel named, yes, Blackie! Others – Frisky, Doby, and a Peke named Goo Boo – soon followed. As I grew older, it seemed that all the homeless dogs and cats in my little town “knew” to gather in our yard, sensing that I could not turn a single one away. An impulse to save needy animals carried on throughout my entire life, and I was willing to pursue eccentric efforts to save a chained or otherwise mistreated animal. After I moved to Saudi Arabia, our villa in a Saudi neighborhood quickly filled with abandoned dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and even ducks!
Friends who stayed overnight in our home were often confronted with the challenge of sharing their bed with a couple of affectionate cats, of being roused in the morning by songs from caged birds, or of arranging their evening ablutions alongside a surprise in the guest bathroom: a bathtub filled with ducks! Some people say that my heightened sensitivity is a blessing, while others stamp it a curse. I endorse the “blessing” tag and exult that I’ve been the joyful “mother” of 31 cats and dogs, the “foster mom” of many others until I could find an appropriate home, as well as the caretaker of too many birds to count. A few years ago a friend from the days of Saudi laughingly confided that my nickname was “The Bird Woman of Riyadh,” a title unknown to me during my 12 years of living in the desert kingdom.
In Saudi Arabia, I worked as the Administrative Coordinator of Medical Affairs at The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre. Most hospital reports crossed my desk prior to being presented to my boss who was the head of the hospital. Therefore, I was privy to the details of many human tragedies. But the reports that haunted me most were the stories of women who had been brutally mistreated. And, more often than not, it seems, their injuries had been inflicted by the very men who were supposed to protect them. Many Saudi men, of course, were wholly kind to the females in their family. But when the occasional man lashed out at a wife or daughter with cruelty or brutality, the women of the family had nowhere to turn for help. The man’s word was absolute law and no outside organization would dare interfere. A woman’s helplesness in such a situation is heartrending and nearly unsolvable.
I saw sadness almost every day that I worked at the hospital, most of it associated with women’s issues. Unfortunately, there was little I could do – for I, too, was a disenfranchised woman, in a country not my own.
But I met several Saudi women who desperately plotted for change. One was a Saudi princess, a woman the world now knows as Princess Sultana al-Saud. Understanding her culture well, she described that nothing would crack Saudi men’s determination to maintain the status quo…nothing, that is, short of worldwide indignation. For this reason, the princess was fierce in her belief that the story of Saudi women must be told. Most importantly, she wanted her own life experiences to be the story that inflamed the world. For years we discussed this possibility, but after my book THE RAPE OF KUWAIT lent me the clout of a bestseller, we knew the time was right to expose the tragedies that afflict so many women on this earth. By then, we were both mature women who understood that discrimination against women is not limited to Saudi Arabia or to the Middle East, but is a worldwide problem, aggrieving women in Western nations, too. But first we would tell HER story.
Storytelling is powerful. A powerful book or movie can inform and inflame. That is why I think it is wonderful that so many books are now being written about the plight of women worldwide. I support all authors who make this important subject their life’s work.
I am proud that PRINCESS was the first book to be written about the life of a Saudi Arabian woman, because Saudi life for females is completely unique and cannot compare with any other Middle Eastern country, or for that matter, any country in the world.
After PRINCESS, I shared other, very powerful stories. After traveling to Iraq in July 1998, I wrote about Mayada Al-Askari in MAYADA, DAUGHTER OF IRAQ. Later I shared the story of Joanna’s great adventure, the story of a Kurdish woman’s escape from Northern Iraq in the book LOVE IN A TORN LAND. Soon came the compelling story of Osama’s wife and son, called: GROWING UP BIN LADEN. My latest account is FOR THE LOVE OF A SON: ONE AFGHAN WOMAN’S QUEST FOR HER STOLEN CHILD, a story that will make you weep and make you laugh. Such exuberance is typical of so many lives, lives laced with good and with bad. And who would deny the importance of any story that details the life of a woman who challenges an unjust system? Such stories are criticized only by those who care nothing about the status of women.
I hope that you learn about women of the world, and that you, too, work to ensure that every human being – male or female – has the right to lead a life of dignity. Jean Sasson www.jeansasson.com
THE BOOKS I HAVE WRITTEN:
I’m currently working on my memoirs and a first installment featuring the first year of living in Saudi Arabia was recently released as an e-book, titled: AMERICAN CHICK IN SAUDI ARABIA. READERS NOTE: This is only a short installment. The book will not be released for at least another year.
My work has been featured in People, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New York Post, The Sunday London Times, The Guardian, CNN, FOX, NBC, and many other news organizations.