by Jean Sasson
I’m a small-town Alabama girl. In my youth I would have never dreamed of traveling to live in an exotic desert kingdom where I would meet a wealthy and beautiful princess who would become my friend and collaborator in the world of book publishing. People often ask me how such a thing happened, and it’s easy enough to understand their curiosity and to answer their question. Quite simply, my adventures in travel and unanticipated friendships came about because of a life-long obsession: I’ve been an avid reader and book lover since I was old enough to turn the pages of a book.
Although my memories of growing up in the small community of Louisville, Alabama, still possess a dream-like quality, (the “before air-conditioning days” were oppressively hot and the nights conspicuously long), I accomplished a lot during those eighteen years. I delighted in school and learning as though it was a fun fair, sincerely relishing every moment. My love of learning did not end with the school year. During the long, hot summers, my hometown was fortunate to be one of the small communities on the rural county’s book mobile route, and my family home was the first scheduled stop.
I remember waiting impatiently by the narrow, curved road, with my sweet dog Frisky passing the time beside me, whining in cadence as I anxiously tapped my foot on the fiery pavement. How happy I was when I would finally identify the mobile library slowly moving in my direction.
As the book mobile came closer, my anticipation mounted until I could no longer contain my excitement. Remembering my mother’s strict instructions about the dangers of crossing the street, I looked left then right before scrambling across the road, with a happy Frisky running by my side. The book mobile never pulled into private driveways, but, instead, always stopped in the middle of the road. It was up to book lovers to clamor onboard.
The driver was a gentle man, quiet, speaking little. I always assumed that he was contemplating over one of the many books he must have read, for I equated his job with a great love of reading. Time has erased his name from my memory, but his kindly countenance has remained with me. He appeared to get a boost from my enthusiasm, even allowing Frisky to walk about in the back of the book mobile as I carefully selected books to read. I recall that three books a week was the maximum one could take, but after that first summer, he graciously made an exception, allowing his most eager reader to borrow five books a week. I always read them all. All that reading about places and people far away from my little hometown sparked enormous curiosity in my heart and mind. As an adult, when an opportunity came for me to travel the world, I didn’t hesitate.
I packed my bags and eagerly departed my home and country to travel to Saudi Arabia to work in a royal hospital. Little did I know when I left that I would be working directly for the head of the hospital, a Saudi physician who had been educated in the United Kingdom and the United States. That doctor’s father had been close to the first king, and after it was discovered that he was a bright lad, the royal family had paid for his education abroad. As a result, he was closely attached to the royal family, and, over time, became involved in the daily life of King Khalid Al-Saud, as well as the Crown Prince, Fah’d, who would one day be king.
Soon it was not a novelty to be greeting royals, for my boss was by their side anytime they were patients, or, were visiting other royal patients. It was not unusual for him to call me with a request to take various items to the royal hospital rooms. So five years after arriving in the kingdom when I met Princess Sultana Al-Saud, an outspoken princess at an embassy function, I was at ease, chatting with her about mundane aspects of life in her country, as well as touching lightly on important issues that affected us both, which was the disadvantages faced by all women living in Saudi Arabia, even a princess. As an American expatriate woman, I had many advantages over native women, who, for the most part, lived lives of oppression.
Although our friendship was not immediate, and time was needed to establish full trust, within a few years I was invited into Princess Sultana’s home, and even traveled with her on several holidays, along with two of her sisters. After discovering my enormous interest in books, and the fact I had authored a poetry book, and written a book I had never tried to have published, Princess Sultana decided that I was a woman she could trust to write her personal story. Trust was of utmost importance, as her identity would be kept confidential.
While she was keen, I was less so, for I had lived in her country for seven years and had no desire to leave. Saudi Arabia and the royal family had been good to me. I had married, and my life and pets and many things I loved were in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I knew that if I wrote a tell-all book for a princess, I would no longer be a welcome guest.
But after I wrote a New York Times bestselling book about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (The Rape of Kuwait), the princess became impatient, knowing that I was in a perfect position to make the plight of women in Saudi Arabia known to the world. And so it came to pass that I left the kingdom, and I told her important story, Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. Although many editors in the publishing world claimed that the world would not care about a Saudi princess, years later, and after millions of books sold, Princess Sultana proved them wrong. Her life story, and the stories of other Saudi women, have touched the hearts and minds of millions of readers, changing many lives. Many young women (and some men) write to us both, saying that Princess Sultana’s story has altered their lives in a wonderful and positive way, and that they will now spend the remainder of their lives helping other women.
It’s a wonderful legacy. I have lived a life of adventure, traveling the world, befriending a princess, and becoming an internationally bestselling author. I give credit for my wonderful life story to the authors of the many books I read as a child, the books that stirred my conscience to the struggles of those who must fight difficult battles, often giving their lives, for the right to live in dignity.
I hope that my special friend, Princess Sultana, and I have done the same for many present-day readers.
PRINCESS: MORE TEARS TO CRY can be purchased in mass market paperback or format for/from: