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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2007)

by Paul Torday

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English (64)  German (2)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (69)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
This was a book club selection and therefore a new author to me and I wasn’t disappointed! The first thing that I was drawn to with this book was the name of the book. The idea of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was interesting and intriguing at the same time. I wasn’t really sure what to expect so I was excited to find out.

The book started off by introducing us to a Dr Alfred Jones who worked for the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence (NCFE) through the correspondence he had with the director of NCFE David Sugden and others. We also meet Alfred’s (Fred’s) wife Mary who is hard to read at the best of times and at others seems to really lack any ounce of humour. We see that her relationship with Fred deteriorates over the course of the story. Personally I was never enamoured with Mary but thought that Fred was an interesting character - an honest man yet sensible.

The story showcased how politics is very good at covering up things so as to save face when things look as though they’re about to go horribly wrong and therefore needs to be standing an appropriate distance from goings on. Conversely, this story showed how politically powers are very happy to be associated with a project when there’s a prospect that such an association would work in its favour. I really thought that it was a great comment on today’s political system even though it was the British government the story was focussed on. There were times when all one could do was laugh about what was going on.

This story was more than just a nice little story about Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It was about faith, belief, and pushing the envelope within yourself. It was a very rich story which allowed the reader into a world that we would perhaps not understand in a normal situation. Highly recommend this author’s work.
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  zarasecker18 | Aug 22, 2018 |
The group enjoyed this book immensely. It was not the usual type of book any of us would have chosen but instead of putting us off we dived in because the group specifically wants to try new things. We were not disappointed - we learnt a great deal and gained a lot of pleasure from the book. This was the first time most of us had read an epistolary novel so this format again was something new and the group loved it. The ending of the book came as a surprise to us all. For the sheikh, the salmon project had been a religious ambition and the consolidation of his faith, so his death at the moment the waters opened and the salmon were freed was particularly symbolic. Is the author implying that a man may dream great dreams and try to be close to God, but he may not PLAY God. The project after all was contrary to the laws of nature. It is also interesting that all of the surviving main characters in the book ended in the most miserable fates. Again, is this a 'message' from the author? All in all a very interesting read with much to consider.
  PossumOfWar | Jul 1, 2017 |
Beautifully described story about having a belief in something. ( )
  alisonday69 | Oct 30, 2016 |
I really didn't hate this novel or anywhere close. However, I had a few problems with it that meant I couldn't rate it any higher than I did.

1. The structure. While I love (love love LOVE) epistolary novels, a lot of the switches in medium really didn't work for me here. The excerpts from Peter Maxwell's biography, the newspapers, Hansard, and some of the police interview things are superfluous and don't work as well as the diary, email, and letter portions. I got really bored during some of the former kind of sections and found myself glazing over.

2. The way Harriet's character was portrayed with relation to Fred. It felt like her whole story, in particular her relationship with Robert, was structured in order to enable Fred's character development. Although I am glad they didn't end up together, I wasn't terribly happy about the way Harriet and Robert's story played out. Ultimately, I wanted to know more about Harriet and was more invested in her as a character than any of the others. She really suffers in this story and it feels a bit unfair that she is so sidelined to Fred and his marriage issues. The sex scene was icky and felt completely out of character - I would also have preferred if the author had maintained the repressed longing aspect rather than have had that scene in there.

3. The ending. Having two of the best characters in the novel die for no reason just... ugh. It was such a crap way to end the story. I mean, what for? Blugh.
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  thebookmagpie | Aug 7, 2016 |
I loved this book. It is funny and moving at the same time. Basically it's about a madcap scheme to introduce Scottish Salmon to the rivers of the Yemen, and the personal and political fallout for those involved in the project. There is a romance of sorts, but without it being all about that. The author also manages to make salmon and fly fishing interesting. ( )
1 vote eclecticdodo | Jul 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
The impossible title of this extraordinary book took me back to a moment nearly 20 years ago. I had walked for three days down Wadi Surdud, one of the great seasonal watercourses that cut their way towards the Red Sea through the western highlands of Yemen. The scenery was extravagant - deep chasms sculpted by floodwater, pinnacles where lightning licked at high-perched castles, the seats of South Arabian lairds. At last, the gradient decreased, and as I rounded a bend I saw in one of the occasional pools that lay in the wadi bed something I have never seen in Yemen before or since: a man fishing with rod and line. Not, of course, for salmon: this was the coarsest of coarse fishing, for minnow-sized awshaj - I think a type of barbel - with a stick for a rod and a grain of maize for bait. The incongruous scene remains in my memory, and always will. Yemen is a memorable country: "Not a day will pass in your life," wrote the Master of Belhaven, a laird from the distant north, "but you will remember some facet of that opal-land."

Here, as well as lairds and castles, we have mists and glens, kilts, dirks and the odd feud or two. But unlike in Scotland the rain is considerate, coming at known seasons and times of day. It is also somewhat sparing, and there are no natural lochs or permanent rivers, and certainly no salmon (except smoked, on HBM ambassador's canapés). So Paul Torday's debut novel is about an impossibility. It is also about belief in the impossible, and belief itself. And the remarkable thing is that a book about so deeply serious a matter can make you laugh, all the way to a last twist that's as sudden and shocking as a barbed hook.

As with all good comedy, there's a tragic underside, a story of love and loss and another of love that never was. And there is satire. Torday's aim is deadly; but then, his targets are big. Jay Vent, the British prime minister, has taken his country into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere in the region: the story is set in the nearish future . . .) and has dug himself into the deepest of holes. So what does he do? Of course: he goes on digging. "We're pretty much committed to going down a particular road in the Middle East," says Vent, a graduate, like his real-life counterpart, of the White Queen's school of logic, "and it would be difficult to change that very much without people beginning to ask why we'd started down it in the first place." . . .

This is an odd artefact. It depicts an attempt to introduce salmon to rivers in the Yemeni Highlands via the largesse of a local sheikh and the expertise of a UK government agency.

The book - it can scarcely be described as a novel - is constructed from supposed diary entries, letters, emails, extracts from Hansard, fragments of autobiography, a TV game show script, transcripts of television and press interviews, Select Committee Report conclusions and interrogations of the various participants in this madcap scheme. All have differing viewpoints and narrators. As such the whole becomes diffuse and bitty.

While there is an overall narrative thread the disparate voices too often fail to suspend disbelief. Instead of being presented with a convincing rendering of a diary extract or interview transcript we are given novelistic embellishments. The diary extracts contain information that we as readers ought to have but a diarist would not find it necessary to include. In one of the interviews a respondent states a person spoke mildly when surely they would report only the relevant conversation’s content, in another there is an (uncredited) interruption which reads, “The witness became emotional after the consumption of custard creams and was incoherent. The interview was resumed after a break of four hours.” This authorial interpolation is, I suppose, intended humorously but is, instead, bathetic, if not pathetic. The Hansard extracts do not quite reflect accurately the format of Prime Minister’s Questions. While it might be said that this is a comic novel and some licence is allowable, to get details such as this last example wrong detracts from the intended effect. Infelicities such as those above totally fail to create the necessary degree of verisimilitude. The name dropping of real people as interviewers - Andrew Marr, Boris Johnson - while the politicians and aides are fictional (yet recognisable) is also a mistake.

The book is obviously meant to be a satire but its approach is so scattershot that it is difficult to tell exactly what or whom is the intended target. Is it the workings of bureaucracies, office politics, communications directors/spin doctors, career women, politicians, even Islamic terrorists? All are featured, but the focus never stays in one place for long. The only character who has any semblance of solidity is the supposedly mad sheikh; and he has no viewpoint narrative.

After the novel’s end we also have “Reading Group Notes” containing items “for discussion.” Some may find this condescending.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen has its moments; but they are few.
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This book is dedicated to my wife Penelope, who can catch salmon in bright sunlight and at low water, to the friends I fish with on the Tyne and the Tay, and to the men and women of the Environment Agency, without whom there would be far fewer fish in our rivers.
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Dear Dr Jones, We have been referred to you by Peter Sullivan at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Directorate for Middle East and North Africa).
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This is the book, don't combine with the film.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0753821788, Paperback)

British businessman and dedicated angler Paul Torday has found a way to combine a novel about fishing and all that it means with a satire involving politics, bureaucrats, the Middle East, the war in Iraq, and a sheikh who is really a mystic. Torday makes it all work in a most convincing way using memos, interviews, e-mails, and letters in clever juxtaposition.

Dr. Alfred Jones is a fisheries scientist in Great Britain who is called upon to find a way to introduce salmon into the desert in Yemen. The Yemeni sheikh will spare no expense to see this happen. He says:

It would be a miracle of God if it happened. I know it... If God wills it, the summer rains will fill the wadis... and the salmon will run the river. And then my countrymen... all classes and manner of men--will stand side by side and fish for the salmon. And their natures, too, will be changed. They will feel the enchantment of this silver fish... and then when talk turns to what this tribe said or that tribe did... then someone will say, "Let us arise, and go fishing."

Such is the sheikh's vision. He tells Alfred: "Without faith, there is no hope. Without faith, there is no love." Alfred has no religious faith and has been mired in a loveless marriage for twenty years, so these words seem fantastic to him.

Alfred and Sheikh Muhammad connect immediately through their mutual love of fishing, despite Alfred's misgivings about the viability of the project. The Prime Minister's flack man tells Alfred that he must persevere and succeed because Great Britain needs some positive connection to the Middle East, something other than a failing, flailing war. These kinds of political alliances are always shaky at best, and when things start to go sideways, allies have a way of disappearing. Alfred soldiers on, with the help of the lovely Harriet, Sheikh Muhammad's land agent, and the project is readied for opening day, when the Sheikh and the Prime Minister will have a 20-minute photo op.

All of the faith and good will in the world cannot overcome the forces ranged against them, bringing tragedy to everyone involved. Despite all, Alfred's interior life is changed immeasurably. He says in the end: "I believe in it, because it is impossible." --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:27 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

An extraordinary, beguiling tale of fly-fishing and political spinning, of unexpected heroism and late-blooming love, and of an attempt to prove the impossible, possible.

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