Book: Driving the Saudis
Author: Jayne Amelia Larson. This is her first book. She is an actress and film producer.
Publisher Summary: When she got hired to drive for the Saudi royal family vacationing in Beverly Hills, Larson thought she’d been handed the golden ticket. She’d heard stories of the Saudis giving $20,000 tips and Rolex watches to their drivers. But when the family arrived at LAX with millions of dollars in cash—money that they planned to spend over the next couple of weeks—Larson realized that she might be in for the ride of her life. With awestruck humor and deep compassion, she describes her eye-opening adventures as the only female in a detail of over forty assigned to drive a beautiful Saudi princess, her family, and their extensive entourage.
The lives of the supremely wealthy are always of interest to the general public; even more so the lives of the supremely wealthy from foreign cultures. Driving the Saudis should have been a consuming read about the lives of super-rich women, but a lack of coherent structure, uneven descriptions, and poor editing make it less enjoyable. For example, there are too many self-referential asides from the author interspersed in her vignettes. I ended up knowing more about the author’s sister’s wool suits, and how uncomfortable they are for a chauffeuring job in the California summer climate, than I did about the lives and personalities of the women for which she drove.
But not being able to gain greater insight into the lives of these Saudi women is perhaps a clue that their lives exist only on a shallow and restricted basis, despite their vast wealth. Owning and acquiring a vast cache of Birkin handbags in every color becomes meaningless when you cannot be out in public, alone, as you carry one. Does buying everything you want adequately compensate for being unable to govern your own body and mind? In the end, instead of being entertained by stories of power-shopping, one ultimately becomes grateful not to be burdened by that sort of ‘wealth’.
Amanda Patchin Bio
I was eager to read this memoir when I first heard about it. I have read several others about the Saudi royal family and am intrigued by the complexity of the lifestyle and beliefs of the women in that world. I was afraid that Driving the Saudis might be a tabloid-esque gossipy narrative and hopeful that it might be insightful and compelling. Lucky for us, it was the latter!
Not only does Larson offer us a nuanced view of the Saudi princesses she chauffeured, she also focuses her insight on the many Saudi servants working with her and their own complex lives and views. She then turns her insight onto herself, examining her own willingness to exchange her dignity and ideals for much needed cash and reserves her most critical perspective for the American systems and laws that can be sold to such a high bidder.
Recommended for those seeking a more complex understanding Islamic cultures and American relationships with them.
Read Also: Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson
I really struggled to get into this book. It sat on my nightstand for days collecting dust as I tried to convince myself to give it another shot. Ultimately, it took me about two weeks to read a 200 page book. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will… just in case I haven’t quite convinced you all.
The title and plot summary make the book sound like something stolen from the pages of a smutty gossip magazine but the content fails to deliver in a big way. I expected Jayne to regale me with a glimpse into the life of the mega-wealthy and powerful members of the Saudi Royal Family and their scandalous and juicy gossip, but instead endured nothing more than the painful antics of bratty teenage girls and grown men alike. In all truthfulness, the most interesting characters of the book are the royal family’s servants, who really steal the limelight.
One big reason why I had so much trouble with this book is that the first 25-30% of the book is so disjointed and tends to explore a lot of unnecessary and tiresome tangents. A lot of backstory is given where not much is required and the chapters seem to jump around quite a bit.
I’ll be honest, I’ve recently adapted the motto of “life is too short to continue reading a book that you don’t like”, that being said, I did not finish this book. Why, you ask?
I was able to tell immediately, that this was a debut author. The writing seemed both lengthy (in sentences and chapters), and choppy in ideas. The chapters, meant to be read and written each as its own essay, seemed to me, to not flow together. She took the reader from point to point, not following a straight line, or a common story thread. I didn’t see any development in the characters, instead just different instances in which she worked with particular people of the Saudi royal family. Perhaps some of this is because it was her debut novel, and was a memoir, as opposed to fiction, which I am used to reading. However I am an avid lover of other memoirs, mainly Jen Lancaster who is known for her humor and wit, who while also writing in essay form, she carves a fluid story from chapter to chapter.
I didn’t see a story arc or character development, and while the history she gave about the Saudi royal family was interesting, in the end I was just not pulled into the story itself.
I was excited to read this book, its just the kind of book I enjoy. But I just did not connect to this book. It was almost 206 pages of complaining; the author complained about her choices, how hard it was chauffeuring the family, about how bad they behaved, the money they spent. I felt annoyed the whole time I was reading it, all that negativity is exhausting. The book did redeem itself slightly towards the end when the author focused on the servants she also drove around. As the author slowly reveals the plight of the woman working for the royal family you feel thankful for the choices we take for granted everyday.
Read Instead: Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi