'Inside the Kingdom' was first published in English by Warner Books in July 2004; it is the story of one woman's experiences living as a foreigner in Saudi Arabia. The first thing that one notices, however, is the author's name: Carmen Bin Laden, a sister-in-law of Osama Bin Laden. The book itself provides a fascinating insight into Saudi Arabian culture, as well as into the lives of the members of the Bin Laden clan.
It tells the story of Carmen's life, from beginning to present. Her father was Swiss and her mother Iranian. After her parents broke up, she and her sister were raised in Switzerland by her mother. The book focuses on her experiences in meeting, falling in love with, marrying, and eventually divorcing one of the members of the Saudi Arabian Bin Laden clan – Yeslam Bin Laden, one of Osama Bin Laden's many brothers. During much of the time that she was married to Yeslam she lived in Saudi Arabia, and was subject to its strict laws regarding the behavior and dress of women.
The novel starts off with a description of Carmen's experiences on September 11th; how she responded to the event emotionally, and her fears of the backlash against herself and her children. At the time, she was in Switzerland with her daughters – the oldest of whom, Wafah, lived in New York City at the time. This first chapter of the book outlines her connection to the Bin Laden clan, as well as summed up her entire relationship with Osama – that he represented everything that had repelled her from that country.
Over the chapters of the book, Carmen describes her experiences as a Western woman who had to adjust to life in a culture completely alien to her; she comments on the dress requirements, the strictly religious nature of Saudi society, and the extreme restrictions placed upon her by a society which seems to be so very archaic. Forced to dress herself from head-to-toe in a black abaya, unable to even cross the road without a chaperon, and with a husband who could legally divorce her in a matter of seconds it is little wonder that she decided to leave the country.
As a strong-minded Western woman, she tried very hard to scrape out what small freedoms she could while in Saudi Arabia – hosting tennis parties for foreign diplomats, addressing men herself (although only within her household), and having dinner parties where she would sit at the same table as the men. One of the most vivid scenes in the book is of her description of the special arrangements that had to be made so that she could go shopping for baby formula herself – all the men had to leave the shop and the store's staff had to turn their backs to her, an arrangement only possible due to her connection to the extremely powerful Bin Laden clan.
The book is fantastic in being an account of what it is like to live as a woman in Saudi Arabia, although one has to note that because of her circumstances she was afforded far more freedom than most – she describes just how powerful the Bin Laden family is, as well as its special ties with the Saudi Arabian Royal Family. I cannot recommend it enough. However, I do feel that it could be better – some more background information would possibly have been of interest. My copy is only 205 pages long, and I can't help but notice that the font size used is slightly larger than one would usually find. Also, I am harboring suspicions that the paper must also be slightly thicker than usual, as it only took 3 hours for me to finish the entire book.
Title..............."Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia"
Author............Carmen Bin Laden
Publisher........Warner Books, 2004