Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Driving the Saudis by Jayne Amelia Larson

Jayne Amelia Larson's memoir starts out the way anybody's story of trying to pursue their dream might start.  Girl moves to LA to try to make it in the film industry.  Girl gathers mountains of debt while failing to gather mountains of job offers.  Girl takes utter crap job to pay the bills.  It's a common story, but the utter crap job that Larson takes is a boon to her readers because she's not waiting tables or cleaning toilets, rather she's chauffeuring a pack of rich Saudi royals.

As it turns out, a truly awful job for Larson makes for an engaging memoir that proves to be both entertaining and enlightening.  Life among the Middle East's most filthy rich is bizarre to say the least.  The Princess heading up the party spends most of her days shopping in high end stores with family, friends, and servants and demands that the chauffeur for each participant follow along as the party walks between stores.  A tea set gets its own expensive hotel room.  Women who, at home, are expected to be covered from head to toe to go out in public, who may not even be looked upon by a man not related to them, suddenly throw off their restrictions, not to mention most of their clothes once they hit American soil.  Larson is responsible for catering to her employers' every demand, no matter how ludicrous, and standing at the end of a long road, is that beacon of freedom - the unfathomably large tip the Saudis are rumored to pay for a job well done - a tip Larson is counting on and slaving toward in hopes of keeping her creditors at bay.

Driving the Saudis is a fascinating book, really.  On one hand it is a memoir of a woman pushed to the brink by an unbelievably demanding job, but also a woman who found unexpected friends in the servants to the royal family.  On the other hand, the book proves to be an enlightening look at a culture that can rarely be seen from the inside. Larson's book is compact and well-paced, moving from one anecdote of her time with the Saudis to another fluidly in such a way that never loses the reader's interest.  Larson's tales of the Saudis are wild, mind-boggling, and occasionally funny, but Larson never seems to lose sight of the fact that these are people she is writing about and shines a light on the paradoxical lives of the Saudi women who have more money at their disposal than most of us can even imagine in a lifetime but whose lives are fiercely constrained by a society ruled by strict Muslim law. 

I fully expected Driving the Saudis to be an entertaining read, but I was surprised again and again by Larson's unique insights into the lives of both the rich Saudi royals and their servants, who are little more than girls working to send money home to their families.  Driving the Saudis is an amusing romp among the rich, but it's also a fascinating snapshot of a culture that could hardly be more foreign to us. 

(Thanks to Free Press for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.)


  1. This is the first I've heard of this book and it sounds fascinating! Glad you got to read it and share it. I'm adding it to my TBR!

  2. I am not familiar with this book but it does sound like one I would enjoy. I especially was taken by what you wrote: "Larson never seems to lose sight of the fact that these are people she is writing" because that's important to me. Thanks for a great review and recommendation!

  3. Damn this sounds like a good book! I'm going to see if my library has this. Great review.

  4. This sounds fascinating. My aunt worked in Saudi Arabia for some years back in the late 70's, and I am sure she would love to read this as well. Thanks for the tip!