Princess Sultana is said to be a woman from one of the highest royal families in Saudi Arabia. She reportedly kept diaries detailing the gut-wrenching treatment of Saudi women and passed her story on to an author named Jean P. Sasson, who allegedly then used the journals to write a book, Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. Whether she truly exists remains a major debate in the literary and political worlds.
Overview of Princess Sultana's Story
Through Sasson's text, Princess Sultana reveals a place in which men take up unrelenting dominance over women. She shows how the denial of human rights for women begins with children, offering details of a time when she was severely punished as a child for eating an apple her brother wanted. Her story also describes how females often are undereducated or refused education altogether.
Much of Princess Sultana’s story is not for the faint of heart. In addition to giving personal information, she tells tales of women who are starved or locked in rooms for what most people would consider minor infractions, giving details how they are tormented and, in some cases, stoned to death, all within the confines of the laws of the land. She even gives accounts of women who, after being sexually assaulted, are executed as punishment for supposedly seducing their rapists.
Some of the debate about whether Princess Sultana is real comes from the fact that Sasson and her agent, Peter Miller, admittedly changed her name. They claim this was necessary to protect Sultana from the harm that likely would come to her if people knew who she really was. They also say that protecting her identity keeps her children from danger. Supporters assert that there is enough evidence to suggest that the fear of retaliation against a woman who speaks out in Saudi Arabia is well-founded.
Friederike Monika Adsani's Lawsuit
Friederike Monika Adsani is an Austrian woman who, for a time, was married to a man from a Kuwaiti family. She wrote a manuscript called Cinderella in Arabia about the problems she had in her marriage and fitting in to the Kuwaiti society. Eventually, she submitted the text to Peter Miller, but he reportedly rejected the work on the grounds that it wasn't sensational enough. Following the Gulf War, in 1992, Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia was published under Sasson's byline.
Adsani became aware Sasson's text and noticed extreme similarities between her original manuscript and Sasson's version. Some of the language appeared to be directly taken from Adsani's work. Making things even more suspicious was the fact that Peter Miller, the same agent who had rejected Cinderella in Arabia, was the agent representing Sasson. Convinced her work had been plagiarized, Adsani filed a copyright lawsuit claiming that Miller and Sasson had stolen her manuscript, publishing it under Sasson's name in order to sell more copies.
Following the lawsuit, a woman claiming to be Sasson responded to the plagiarism claim on the popular blog, Dogear Diary. The post describes Adsani not only as desperate to be published, but as generally unstable. It further asserts that the "lazy" media simply repeats accusations without trying to find the truth, and that, if Princess Sultana is fake, it wouldn't have been possible to write the additional books about her that followed Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. Sasson posted additional information trying to discredit Adsani on her own website, saying Adsani was stalking her.
In 1996, as the debate about Princess Sultana raged, the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs outlined significant problems with the case. The article that appeared claimed that Sasson's published text is riddled with factual inaccuracies. Among them are assertions of female circumcision (generally not practiced in the Middle East) and misstatements about veiling, dowries and the permission of women to enter mosques. Critics, including the former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, pointed out that, even if these problems weren't in the work, many of the events described are so horrific that they would have been widely known and condemned in Saudi Arabia. They explain that, in general, Saudis think the book is a fake and are disappointed and surprised that people from America believe the tales of cruelty are true.
Perhaps even more damaging are statements released from multiple individuals involved with the case. Experts such as Dr. R. Victoria Arana, professor of English at Howard University, for example, testified to the similarities between Adsani's manuscript and Sasson's book. Comments made by Miller himself following the lawsuit also appeared incriminating.
Despite these supports, Adsani lost her lawsuit against Miller and Sasson. The court not only dismissed the case, but also ordered her to pay all court costs for the defendants. Both Sasson and Adsani continue to maintain that they are telling the truth about Princess Sultana.