During my recent trip to Dubai, I spent some time in the largest book store I’ve ever seen. Whilst browsing the hundreds of shelves, I spotted this book by Dr Qanta Ahmed – a British-born Pakistani Muslim who had spent much of her professional life in the United States, becoming qualified in four specialties – who decided to undertake a two-year residency at a hospital in Saudi Arabia.
Because of my interest in women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, I bought this book and I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As a doctor, I expected Dr Ahmed’s account of her time in the Kingdom to be clinical and fact-packed. However, what I discovered was a wonderfully intricate, deeply moving account of one woman’s quest to adapt to a culture in which women’s rights are very different to the Western world in which she had spent most of her life until that point.
Qanta’s language is highly emotive and I was completely enthralled with the stories she told and the people she met. This does not read like a text-book as one may expect. Despite being very informative, it is in no way boring or lifeless. The language used is evocative. Dr Ahmed acknowledges the gaps in her own knowledge and that makes her a very reliable narrator.
Qanta discusses the dichotomies in Saudi’s laws very honestly as well as exposing the double standards between the genders.
There are heart-stopping encounters with the Mutaween (religious police) and really moving moments when Qanta discusses her journey to Mecca on Hajj and the patients she treats in one of the most advanced hospitals in the world. Qanta approaches her subjects with honesty yet sensitivity.
This book is absolutely enthralling. It has religion, medicine, culture and even a smattering of romance (which, in The Kingdom is no mean feat)!