Book Review: American Chick in Saudi Arabia

When Jean Sasson, a young Southern woman, answers a call to work in the royal hospital in Saudi Arabia, what should have been a two-year stay turns into a life-changing adventure spanning over a decade.

Jean is plunged into the hidden lives of the veiled women in Riyadh, where women are locked in luxurious homes and fundamentalist mutawas terrorize the streets. Jean meets women from all walks of life–a feisty bedouin, an educated mother, and a conservative wife of a high-ranking Saudi–all who open a window into Saudi culture and help to reshape Jean’s worldviews.

What follows is a heartfelt, inspiring memoir about Jean’s new-found conviction to fight for women’s rights in a country of limited personal freedom. 

I received American Chick in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson from the publishers on NetGalley and decided to read it as part of the mix-it-up challenge, in the Journalism and Humour category. Although there are parts that made me giggle, this obviously leans a little more towards journalism.

Sasson is well known for her novels about the plight of especially Saudi women. I haven’t read any of her previous works, but For the Love of a Son and Growing Up Bin Laden sound superb.

I started reading the book with some assumptions. Although the blurb simply states that Sasson went to work at a hospital, I assumed she went as a nurse, so I was a little surprised when very little was said about the hospital and healthcare in general. But thank goodness for that, because I read enough medical nonsense as it is!

Sasson writes eloquently about adjusting to this new environment, and chronicles a journey that starts with uncertainty, grows into curiosity and finally instils in her a passion for the country.

I enjoy the apposition of her views with the different views and experiences of the diverse women she encountered. Occasionally I do feel that the “West is Best” mindset shines through in the author’s insistence that these women are deprived even when they do not think they are. While she may well be right, some more in-depth discussion or elaboration might have been useful here.

Nevertheless, the rest of the work clarifies that Sasson respects the Saudi culture, and that she does not intend to patronise.

At 75 pages, this is a succinct read that conjures up images of Saudi Arabia and her people as you’ve never imagined before.


  1. I found so much that was good – and misunderstood about Saudi Arabia that sometimes its hard to wear off. There is much that is misunderstood, and much in turn Saudis need to do to develop their society, but of course all different things have all different kinds of pace. The Saudi women I met and laughed with in Bahrain, as they drove around in cars would benefit a lot from a looser grip on them by society at large, but there are so many forces pulling in so many directions its hard to say which direction will win. But I certainly recommend a few years in the Arabian/Persian Gulf, dear Barefoot Med Student – its fascinating and fun, and South Africans adapt easiest of all!

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment – really appreciate it. While reading the book I began to think more and more about heading in that direction someday soon for some Locum experience. You have intrigued me!

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