Rajaa Alsanea

Rajaa Alsanea

Rajaa Alsanea, a prominent Saudi writer, gained international acclaim with her novel “Girls of Riyadh” or “Banat al-Riyadh”. Published in Lebanon in 2005 and later in English in 2007, the novel earned a long listing for the 2009 Dublin Literary Award. Born into a family of doctors in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Alsanea pursued her education in dentistry, receiving her bachelor’s degree from King Saud University in 2005. She moved to Chicago, continued her studies, and currently serves as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois.

Alsanea’s journey in higher education includes a master’s degree in oral sciences, which she obtained in 2008 from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, supported by the King Abdullah scholarship program. Despite her academic pursuits in dentistry, Alsanea’s debut as a novelist with “Girls of Riyadh” marked her as a distinguished literary figure. The novel, chronicling the lives of four young women through emails, sparked immediate controversy upon its release. Saudi Arabia initially banned it due to its candid portrayal of subjects like infidelity, pre-marital relationships, and homosexuality.

The controversy had personal repercussions for Alsanea, including threats, lost friendships, and challenges to her U.S. scholarship. Despite challenges, the novel gained widespread media attention and acclaim for its bold and unfiltered portrayal of young Saudi women. However, the English translation by Marilyn Booth became a subject of dispute, with Booth criticizing the interference by Alsanea and Penguin publishers in the translation process, leading to a version she described as “inferior and infelicitous”.

Alsanea, while gaining fame for her literary work, did not abandon her career in dentistry. Returning to Saudi Arabia, she works as a consultant endodontist and stem cell researcher at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh. She maintains that dentistry is her profession while writing remains her passion.

Her novel’s impact extended beyond literary circles, leading to her being named one of the most influential Arabs under 40 by Arabian Business. This recognition highlighted her influence not only within Saudi Arabia but also on an international scale. In 2006, Alsanea faced a lawsuit by two Saudi citizens against the Ministry of Information for permitting the publication of “Girls of Riyadh”. The plaintiffs argued that the book promoted immorality and misinterpreted Quranic verses. However, the Court of Grievances dismissed the lawsuit.

Books Written by Rajaa Alsanea