Disfigured: A Saudi Woman’s Story of Triumph Over Violence

by Jacquelyn Lewis

One of the Saudi Arabia’s premier female TV journos tells her compelling story, but the pot-boiler-style prose doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.

Rania Al-Baz’s autobiography traces her life from girlhood in Saudi Arabia to her high-flying career as one of the country’s premier female TV journos by way of two calamitous marriages—the first ending when she was barely out of her teens, and the second with a severe beating from her husband that left her with a three percent chance of survival. This is the kind of lady you really, really, want to root for. Unfortunately, Al-Baz comes off as 
narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, and hypocritical. And the pot-boiler-style prose in Disfigured—translated from the original French by Catherine Spencer—severely undermines the dead-seriousness of the 
subject matter.

Yet, Al-Baz’s willingness to tell her story in a country in which women are primarily relegated to the kitchen and the bedroom (they are not legally permitted to drive, vote, or enter certain professions) is an achievement itself, and her perspective on the world at large is nuanced. Al-Baz lucidly defends Saudi Arabia, its cultural heritage, and Islam, managing to cogently explain how a society in which women are at a significant disadvantage politically and socially is not synonymous with the promotion of violence against women.

After pictures of her attack landed on the front pages of newspapers, Al-Baz was thrust into the role of spokesperson for women in Saudi Arabia. She has successfully put a much-needed spotlight on the problem of violence without attacking her country’s way of life, which has won her support in all areas of Saudi society. I only wish she’d hired a ghostwriter.

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