Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: Driving the Saudis by Jayne Amelia Larson

After more than a decade of working in Hollywood, actress Jayne Amelia Larson found herself out of luck, out of work, and out of prospects. Without telling her friends or family, she took a job as a limousine driver, thinking that the work might be a good way to dig out of debt while meeting A-list celebrities and important movie moguls.

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.

To be a good chauffeur means to be a “fly on the wall,” to never speak unless spoken to, to never ask questions, to allow people to forget that you are there. The nature of the employment—Larson was on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week—and the fact that she was the only female driver gave her an up close and personal view of one of the most closely guarded monarchies in the world, a culture of great intrigue and contradiction, and of unimaginable wealth.

The Saudis traveled large: they brought furniture, Persian rugs, Limoges china, lustrous silver serving trays, and extraordinary coffees and teas from around the world. The family and their entourage stayed at several luxury hotels, occupying whole floors of each (the women housed separately from the Saudi men, whom Larson barely saw). Each day the royal women spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on plastic surgery and mega-shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive. Even the tea setup had its very own hotel room, while the servants were crammed together on rollaway beds in just a few small rooms down the hall.

Larson witnessed plenty of drama: hundreds of hours of cosmetic surgery recovery, the purchasing of Hermès Birkin bags of every color, roiling battles among the upper-echelon entourage members all jockeying for a better position in the palace hierarchy, and the total disregard that most of the royal entourage had for their exhausted staff. But Driving the Saudis also reveals how Larson grew to understand the complicated nuances of a society whose strict customs remain intact even across continents. She saw the intimate bond that connected the royals with their servants and nannies; she befriended the young North African servant girls, who supported whole families back home by working night and day for the royals but were not permitted to hold their own passports lest they try to flee.

While experiencing a life-changing “behind the veil” glimpse into Saudi culture, Larson ultimately discovers that we’re all very much the same everywhere—the forces that corrupt us, make us desperate, and make us human are surprisingly universal.

Received for review.

First, let me state that I found the entire book of stories incredibly offensive. The tales of these rich people disgusted me and turned my stomach. I had zero sympathy for these poor little rich girls no matter the author's efforts to humanize these frankly disgusting monsters. They had zero redeeming qualities. It was like someone trying to get you to like a certain hotel heiress as a person. It wasn't going to happen. She (and the people in this book) is a horrible, horrible person and frankly makes my skin crawl. To call them animals is offensive to the animals. They're just outright monsters.

So, why the four stars? The writing was excellent, and the author did do her best to represent these people fairly, which is more than I could have managed. She told of her experiences with an often humorous tone that made reading more bearable. So, the combination of excellent writing and use of humor made this an interesting anthropological study.

If you're looking for insight into the ultra rich then this is for you. Just put your humanity to the side as you start reading or you will never be able to finish the book.

★★★★ = Really Liked It


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