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Inside the Kingdom
By Carmen Bin Ladin
Read by Shohreh Aghdashloo

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Inside the Kingdom

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Inside the Kingdom
My Life in Saudi Arabia

By Carmen Bin Ladin
Read by Shohreh Aghdashloo
Time Warner AudioBooks, (2004)
An Unabridged Audio Recording on 4 Cassettes
ISBN: 1-58621-737-2
Genre: Memoir

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - July 5, 2004

Carmen Bin Ladin is one of Osama Bin Ladin's sisters-in-law. In 1974 she married into the Bin Ladin family and moved to Saudi Arabia. She had three daughters. Carmen was born and raised in Switzerland. She returned to her homeland in 1988, after separating from her husband.

Carmen was a westernized woman who found it difficult to adjust to the restrictive life in Saudi Arabia. Forced to wear the all masking, black abaya, she not only had to hide her face and her body from the world at large, but she also had to conceal her intelligence and submit to the will of her husband, Yeslam bin Ladin (bin Laden), and his family. When she was living in Saudi Arabia with her husband, his younger brother, Osama was a young man and she had little interaction with him. However, even after she left the family, she was aware of his growing militancy.

Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia is Carmen Bin Ladin's memoir of her life in Saudi Arabia, the break up of her marriage, and how her life changed after the bloodcurdling events of September 11, 2001. The Time Warner, unabridged audio edition of this mesmerizing book is read by the Iranian born Shohreh Aghdashloo. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the role she played in The House of Sand and Fog. Her melodious, exotic sounding voice is pleasing to listen to, and she read the text with such fervor that you can easily imagine that it is the author herself reading the text.

This book is intriguing on a number of different levels. On one hand, it is the story of a seemingly intelligent woman who marries into a close-knit, religiously demanding family and her willing move to a country in which she knows that she will have no rights. In Saudi Arabia, women are encouraged to stay inside the home as much as possible. When they go outside, they have to wear an abaya, a head to toe covering that restricts the wearers vision and which is oppressively hot in the summer. She is forbidden by law to drive, she can not go outside without a chaperone, and most nonreligious pursuits are frowned upon, if not outright illegal. As Carmen details in this account, she found it very hard to adjust to life in Saudi Arabia.

The second part of this story is how she tried to ensure that her daughters grew up with a healthy sense of self-respect. This second part of the story also details how her husband's attitudes changed as he became more fanatical in his religious beliefs and the events that led to his deciding to divorce her. She also describes the steps she has taken in the last few years to protect her daughters from being marked as terrorist simply because of their last name.

The third part of this story is the insider's look that she provides into the inner workings of the Bin Laden family, and Saudi Society. From this book we learn that the Bin Laden's are a close-knit family that, even when they don't always agree on something, will support each other to the very end. She also describes the interactions between the Bin Laden family and the Saudi Royal family. Throughout, she shares what knowledge she has about Osama Bin Laden, those that support him, and what she thinks might happen to his organization when he dies.

Inside the Kingdom is a real page-turner. I found Carmen's descriptions of life, for a woman, in Saudi Arabia to be especially compelling. Her insights into Osama's mind set, and the political machinations of the Bin Ladin's and the Saudi Royal family are based more upon speculation, common sense, memories of the young Osama she once knew, and tidbits of information that she gathered over the years, than any documental evidence. Despite this lack of 'authority', her insights into the Bin Ladin family, and Osama, are compelling and plausible.

Her first-hand experiences in Saudi Arabia are, I feel, the most intriguing parts of this book. Carmen gives an 'outsider on the inside' of what life was like in both the Bin Laden family, and in Saudi Arabia, for an educated, Westernized upper-class woman. Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia is a fascinating book from beginning to end, and one that highlights just how restrictive life is for women under the fanatical Whabbism practiced in Saudi Arabia.

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