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Secrets Behind the Veil: Memoirs of an Expatriate Woman in Saudi Arabia

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Since the first coalition war with Iraq in 1990, the Middle East, specifically the largely inaccessible country of Saudi Arabia, has been the focus of intense media exposure and public interest. As an expatriate western woman working as director of nursing for a major hospital in Riyadh from 1995 through 2001, Ludmilla captures the reality of surviving as a woman in Saudi Since the first coalition war with Iraq in 1990, the Middle East, specifically the largely inaccessible country of Saudi Arabia, has been the focus of intense media exposure and public interest. As an expatriate western woman working as director of nursing for a major hospital in Riyadh from 1995 through 2001, Ludmilla captures the reality of surviving as a woman in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are not a high priority or even a consideration You may have heard about the plight of women in this Kingdom, but now you can experience the reality through the words of someone who lived it day to day. Secrets Behind the Veil takes an uncompromising look at the realities of life in a strictly Islamic society, delving into every aspect of daily life while managing the restrictions imposed by Saudi society. From women spending time in jail for riding in the front seat of a taxi or the constant risk of getting blown up by a car bomb, life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia involves a great deal of culture shock for westerners, in particular western women. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the major oil producing countries in the world. The King and his brothers, along with a large number of extended family members, rule the country in such a manner that allows the average person a relatively affluent lifestyle. By most definitions Saudi is a “man’s country” where women are not allowed to drive a vehicle or ride a bicycle, must wear a full length black body covering, a scarf and full or partial veil covering the face. Men and women are discouraged from socializing together in any way unless they are related to each other. Most homes have two separate living rooms for this purpose. We hear generalized, global information about the Saudi culture, religion and traditions, while at the same time not internalizing the actual impact this has on the women who live there and the misfortunes born upon them through this ultra-restrictive culture. Should the Western World care about their plight or any forms of mental or physical torture they must endure? Many expatriates (people living in the kingdom for the purposes of work, but not Saudi citizens themselves) of different nationalities and religions were required to live and work together in a Kingdom where the belief in only Islam was accepted. The Religious Enlightenment Officers (Mutawa) were intolerant of and persecuted any person who was not following the laws, rules and customs of the Kingdom. Secrets Behind the Veil takes not a glance, but rather an uncompromising and persistent gaze behind the veil, exposing beauty, hypocrisy, misogynistic behavior, and vast cultural differences present for those who chose to live and work in Saudi Arabia.


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Since the first coalition war with Iraq in 1990, the Middle East, specifically the largely inaccessible country of Saudi Arabia, has been the focus of intense media exposure and public interest. As an expatriate western woman working as director of nursing for a major hospital in Riyadh from 1995 through 2001, Ludmilla captures the reality of surviving as a woman in Saudi Since the first coalition war with Iraq in 1990, the Middle East, specifically the largely inaccessible country of Saudi Arabia, has been the focus of intense media exposure and public interest. As an expatriate western woman working as director of nursing for a major hospital in Riyadh from 1995 through 2001, Ludmilla captures the reality of surviving as a woman in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are not a high priority or even a consideration You may have heard about the plight of women in this Kingdom, but now you can experience the reality through the words of someone who lived it day to day. Secrets Behind the Veil takes an uncompromising look at the realities of life in a strictly Islamic society, delving into every aspect of daily life while managing the restrictions imposed by Saudi society. From women spending time in jail for riding in the front seat of a taxi or the constant risk of getting blown up by a car bomb, life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia involves a great deal of culture shock for westerners, in particular western women. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the major oil producing countries in the world. The King and his brothers, along with a large number of extended family members, rule the country in such a manner that allows the average person a relatively affluent lifestyle. By most definitions Saudi is a “man’s country” where women are not allowed to drive a vehicle or ride a bicycle, must wear a full length black body covering, a scarf and full or partial veil covering the face. Men and women are discouraged from socializing together in any way unless they are related to each other. Most homes have two separate living rooms for this purpose. We hear generalized, global information about the Saudi culture, religion and traditions, while at the same time not internalizing the actual impact this has on the women who live there and the misfortunes born upon them through this ultra-restrictive culture. Should the Western World care about their plight or any forms of mental or physical torture they must endure? Many expatriates (people living in the kingdom for the purposes of work, but not Saudi citizens themselves) of different nationalities and religions were required to live and work together in a Kingdom where the belief in only Islam was accepted. The Religious Enlightenment Officers (Mutawa) were intolerant of and persecuted any person who was not following the laws, rules and customs of the Kingdom. Secrets Behind the Veil takes not a glance, but rather an uncompromising and persistent gaze behind the veil, exposing beauty, hypocrisy, misogynistic behavior, and vast cultural differences present for those who chose to live and work in Saudi Arabia.

30 review for Secrets Behind the Veil: Memoirs of an Expatriate Woman in Saudi Arabia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kath

    Condescending and disrespectful Perhaps I am being too critical since it is memoir. I thought there were too many self congratulations, too many condescendingly snide and culturally insensitive remarks.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Aliya

    I was bored and I wanted to read a light read personal memoir, and I came upon this. I found it to be engaging, and I especially enjoyed the frank and candid style of the author. There are no heroes or villains in this book, and no victims or perpetrators. Quite a few races are discussed here, and everyone has their good and bad side, which is a healthy way to look at the world. The westerners are in Saudi Arabia for money, and they collectively ensure that they have material luxuries of all kind I was bored and I wanted to read a light read personal memoir, and I came upon this. I found it to be engaging, and I especially enjoyed the frank and candid style of the author. There are no heroes or villains in this book, and no victims or perpetrators. Quite a few races are discussed here, and everyone has their good and bad side, which is a healthy way to look at the world. The westerners are in Saudi Arabia for money, and they collectively ensure that they have material luxuries of all kinds, hence their lives are quite fun filled with parties and events happening all the time. That, I think is the upside to any expat experience. The author has traveled a lot, thanks to her stint in Saudi Arabia, and she seems to be appreciate the perks that came with the job. Someone I know who has lived there for over three decades, says that Saudis are like Afghans/Pakistani Pashtoons (the races who live in the region defined as the epicenter of world terror). I could certainly see this statement being verified in this memoir. They both have: Lots of money (Afghan's have drug money) and flashy about it; low or no education; love of cars and gadgets; prevalent homosexuality (Afghans/Pashtoons take it up a notch by openly sodomizing boys); and last but not the least, the sub-human treatment of women. All of these are major sins. Wealth itself, is not sinful, but to splurge and to literally live to spend, is. The first Qur'anic revelation was "Iqra," or "read." Saudis/Afghans and Pashtoons don't/can't/won't read. You can either raise yourself to Khair-ul-bariya (the highest of the high) or stoop to becoming shar-ul-baria (the lowest of the low) by obeying or disobeying Allah, respectively. These two sets of people have made a collective choice of negating the commandments of Allah, and following the path of darkness. Small wonder that Saudi Arabia is made insecure by terrorism, and all terrorists from Islamic states-with few exceptions-have links to the Afghan/Pashtoon region. The Aghans/Pashtoons, are, both the perpetrators and victims, of terrorism. Both are reaping what they sowed, and the rest of the world is also suffering.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anil Swarup

    One was aware about the discrimination against women in the middle east, specially Saudi Arabia but one wasn't aware about the insecure existence of expatriates. This comes out lucidly in the personal experience of the author. The author also raises certain fundamental issues relating to the treatment of women in this region : " why Muslim men can have four wives?". She is however candid enough to admit that each country should have the freedom to administer its people the way it wants to and sh One was aware about the discrimination against women in the middle east, specially Saudi Arabia but one wasn't aware about the insecure existence of expatriates. This comes out lucidly in the personal experience of the author. The author also raises certain fundamental issues relating to the treatment of women in this region : " why Muslim men can have four wives?". She is however candid enough to admit that each country should have the freedom to administer its people the way it wants to and should not be measured by western standards. The book is also marked by some hilarious episodes.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Beth Robinson

    I read this book to get a window onto the author's experiences in a place many US citizens don't go. And it did that, as a head nurse, as an expatriate in a bubble, and as a Western woman trying to accept and work within the cultural rules of Saudi Arabia. But I found it only okay as a book because of the writing and the organization. Ideas and experiences were loosely grouped but I couldn't always figure out what happened when or what was timeless or how experiences interacted with each other. I read this book to get a window onto the author's experiences in a place many US citizens don't go. And it did that, as a head nurse, as an expatriate in a bubble, and as a Western woman trying to accept and work within the cultural rules of Saudi Arabia. But I found it only okay as a book because of the writing and the organization. Ideas and experiences were loosely grouped but I couldn't always figure out what happened when or what was timeless or how experiences interacted with each other. The writing style was also acceptable but it didn't capture me in any way.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Iraida

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vickie Whiting

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paulette

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ravindra Kumar Pathak

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joan Cath

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

  11. 4 out of 5

    Reshmi Cherian Alex

  12. 5 out of 5

    Diane Chehab

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mrs Valerie Leung

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dina Milesi

  15. 5 out of 5

    Arul

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Leishman

  17. 4 out of 5

    Beth W

  18. 5 out of 5

    G Vedantham

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adriana

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Ray

  21. 5 out of 5

    kelly armendarez

  22. 5 out of 5

    Faith

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bhaskar Narain Rai Deb Barma

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jayakumar Krishna Pillai

  26. 5 out of 5

    Monica

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kim Carnago

  28. 5 out of 5

    Louis Berecz

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lilia

  30. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Dabbert

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