The Clandestine Adventures of Alice in Saudi Land
At a discreet all-female book club in a shadowy Saudi café, women subtly push for societal change—with a little help from an imaginative heroine who turns 150 this year.
Since Saudi women still can’t take control of the wheel, I step out of the backseat of my shared family car, my long black abaya spilling onto the street as the call to prayer lingers in the cool Saudi air and the sun dips behind the horizon. I walk towards the sand-colored building holding a notebook, and adjust my headscarf with my free hand. The car drives away. The male workers inside the family-owned heritage store nod at me as I enter. I nod back. I go up the stairs alone, my abaya wiping away my footsteps as I climb higher.
Past a thick door, the second-floor café is decorated like an artsy Middle Eastern living room with large cozy sofas and coffee tables. A group of ten women, mostly twenty-and thirty-somethings, plus one teenager, all of different educational and occupational backgrounds, gather around. We simultaneously uncover our hair, and peel our abayas off, revealing colorful clothing — bold paintings hidden beneath dark curtains. Kisses …