Her initial rebellion may be regarded as unwitting because, born in 1979 at the beginning of fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia, she becomes devoutly religious and fanatical about observance of all the rules, harassing her family to do likewise. However, al-Sharif breaks the rules herself when she feels stymied in her drawing, sport and academic endeavours and ultimately relaxes her extreme views.
One salient point that emerges from her account of growing up in a segregated, oppressive society is the power of education. The author’s passion for learning combines with her Libyan mother’s adamant insistence on schooling to ensure success. She is the first female Saudi to be employed in technological information security and, working in the Western enclave of the Saudi-Aramco Oil Company, she earns a good income, works alongside males and is free to drive.
Despite some apparent inconsistencies that group members attributed to the use of a ghost writer, the memoir is incisive and compelling. The violent beatings by parents, teachers and husbands and the emulation of this behaviour by the young, her disfiguring circumcision and the brutality of the religious police are related succinctly and dispassionately, resulting in a searing impact on the reader.
Al-Sharif asserts that, ‘The rain begins with a single drop’ - and it does appear that rights for women in Saudi Arabia are advancing, albeit slowly.