Postmark Publishing Ltd.
Issue 7 - Sept/Oct 2001
Success Is No Mirage
exclusive interview with Rebecca Ponton, Soheir Khashoggi
talks about being a best-selling author, shares intimate
memories of her nephew, Dodi Fayed, and reveals her aspirations
to be like Audrey Hepburn.
to Soheir Khashoggi, it's easy to see why her first book,
"Mirage," was such a big hit, eventually being
translated into 19 languages: she's a wonderful storyteller.
With Soheir, there's no such thing as an "ordinary"
conversation; she talks in mini-vignettes and humorous anecdotes.
She draws you in and weaves her spell, making you feel as
if you're chatting with a close friend.
having lived in America for the past 20 years, Soheir, 55,
still says, "You can call me a nomad. I don't know
where home is really. I miss Egypt." Born and raised
in Alexandria, Soheir later spent a year in America, attending
university, and then continued her education at the American
University in Beirut. She obtained a degree in art and design
from the Interior Design Center of Beirut.
female in the Middle East in the '60s, Soheir says she was
not encouraged in those endeavors, but was privileged to
become a painter and later a writer. After returning from
America, she wanted to go to Florence and study art. "Of
course, my father said, "No way, Jose!" she says,
laughing at herself for using a very American expression.
she was grown, Soheir's father had the opportunity to see
some of her artwork before he passed away. Upon seeing the
expression on his face, she told him, "If you had sent
me to Florence, I would have been better than that."
Soheir says her father
looked at her and said, "Oh, why didn't you go? I said,
"Excuse me? You refused to send me!" And he said,
"Well, my dear, at those times, it was different. We
never used to allow the girls to be alone." Quietly
she says, "I expected that."
have been different for Soheir's four daughters who were
brought up in Europe and America, and she says, "I
always went with the children everywhere. I think that traveling
is a school of its own."
29, a former editor, who now works for a doctor in New York,
was born during Soheir's first marriage, which was arranged
when she was 24. After a year, with her older brother, Adnan's,
help, Soheir fled with Samiha from Saudi Arabia to London,
where she was able to obtain a divorce.
Samiha was seven, Soheir enrolled her in boarding school
in Switzerland. "At that time, I got [re]married,"
Soheir says, " and I was traveling. I think I did a
good thing, putting her there, because I didn't want her
to see a new man in my life, and I was just going from one
place to the other."
Soheir says, "It was tough. I would have loved her
to be with me, but at the same time, I think I [made] the
right choice. From the very beginning, my marriage wasn't
that great," she sighs, "but I stayed in it because
it was my second marriage and I stayed because I wanted
to raise my children with a father."
Trouble in Texas
during her second marriage that Soheir had her most difficult
experience as an expatriate. "I've lived in many different
places [and] I adjust really well," she says. But this
time, her husband's job took them to Dallas, Texas. "Dallas
is where my problems started because, you know, they have
seven women for every man," she says in a fit of laughter.
"I was pregnant at that time with [my daughter] Farida.
I would be in the car with my ex-husband, and women would
come up and throw their telephone numbers into the car.
I had the worst time in Dallas because they were crazy women
turns serious when she says, "I wasn't very happy at
all. I had my daughter and I was all alone, I had no friends,
no family next to me. It was very tough for me." After
five years in Dallas and then a year in London, her husband's
work took them back to the US, where they lived for another
five years. "I had a good time in Maryland, I liked
it there, I had a lot of friends. I started finding myself
there. [My husband] was away and I made my own life, with
marriage began to fall apart during the last year the family
lived in Maryland, and she and her second husband divorced
in 1990. She then moved with the girls to Connecticut to
be near Adnan, who was living in New York at the time. She
says she became stronger after the divorce. "I started
writing and I became a different person."
her second marriage, Soheir had three more daughters: Hana,
now 16, and a high school student, and Farida, 20, and Naela,
21, both of whom are college students. All of the girls
have inherited their mother's artistic ability and express
it in various ways - Samiha through writing, Naela with
photography - and, like Soheir, they all paint.
pride in her daughters is obvious. "They're really
good girls," she says. "But you know, I raised
them alone. I raised the girls 11 years by myself. Their
father was never around and he only sees them once a year.
I've been a single mother for a while."
Soheir moved to New York. With the three younger girls living
at home and Samiha also in the city, Soheir says, "[It's]
the five of us together. Our house of women. I have one
male - the dog," she says laughing. "They're great
girls, they're my best friends."
they carry their fathers' last names and not Khashoggi,
Soheir's daughters may be able to forge their own identities
sooner than she did. Like most Middle Eastern women, Soheir
has lived in the shadow of the men in her life, starting
with her father, Mohamed, who was a physician to the king
of Saudi Arabia. Custom and tradition dictated that her
two husbands would dominate the relationships. And the name
of her older brother, Adnan, whom she respects and says
is "like a father to me," is rarely mentioned
without the words "billionaire arms dealer" preceding
success of "Mirage" in 1996 allowed Soheir to
step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. With great
delight, she tells a story about Adnan being at a dinner
party and having one of the guests turn to him and exclaim,
"You are the brother of Soheir, the writer!"
takes readers into the secret world of today's harems and
provides an insider's view of Middle Eastern aristocracy.
Even now, six years after its publication and eventual translation
into 19 languages, Soheir still appears at book clubs to
answer questions and give readings.
love these types of book clubs because the questions are
so funny, and I try to make my answers funny," she
says, citing the example of a man who asked if the Saudis
still lived in tents. "I told him, don't forget the
camels," she recalls, laughing at the memory. "I
wish they had this in Saudi Arabia," she continues
wistfully, still a bit hurt that "Mirage" was
banned in her own country. Nevertheless, "My book is
in every house in Saudi," she says triumphantly.
recently acted as consultant for the screenplay based on
"Mirage," and is currently shopping it around
to some of the biggest names in Hollywood in hopes of securing
a production deal.
To Dodi, with
also plans to travel to Egypt in the future to discuss the
possibility of her second book, "Nadia's Song,"
being made into a movie. The story of forbidden love between
a wealthy young man and a servant girl is set in Egypt,
and is dedicated to her beloved nephew, Dodi Fayed, who
was killed in 1997 in the car crash that took the life of
recalls another car accident Dodi was in; this time, when
he was only two years old. Soheir was taken to the hospital
where Dodi, his mother, Soheir's older sister, Samira, and
his father, Mohammed Fayed, were being treated. "I
was running in the corridor, calling, "Dodi!"
I was screaming. They gave him to me and he was fine - just
a scratch on his head. He was hugging me, and I didn't even
ask about my sister, I was so bad. And she was okay, but
just to tell you how much I loved that boy."
was separated from his mother at the age of two when she
left his father. But, Soheir, who was nine years older,
says fiercely, "He had me, he always had me. I was
like a mother and a friend and a sister to him."
on, as a young man in his 30s, he became very close to Samira
. . ." Soheir's voice trails off almost to a whisper,
"shortly before she died. It was devastating for him."
A desire to help
is now at work on her third novel due to be published in
2003. The book has a working title of "Vanished"
and focuses on the close friendship between three women
even though each comes from a different culture. The storyline
deals with their marriages and misfortunes, but mostly with
describes writing as one of the greatest pleasures in her
life, but she has other aspirations for the future. The
only Saudi Arabian woman in attendance at the 2000 "Violence
Against Women" forum founded by Spain's Queen Sofia,
she was approached about helping organize a charity ball
to benefit women in the former Yugoslavia, and has recently
raise money on behalf of Afghan women. "I would like
to be involved in anything concerning women's issues,"
she says. "If I can one day be of any help, I will
do it voluntarily. I really would love to [do humanitarian]
work. I want so much to be like Audrey Hepburn, [and do]
what she did."
2001 Rebecca Ponton. No part of this article may be reproduced
without the express written consent of the author.
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