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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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A light-hearted, warm-hearted novel with (as one reviewer puts it) surprising bite. The narriative is all in the shape of letters, diary excerpts, newspaper articles, autobiographies and interviews. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an ironic take on British politics, but it is also a sweet love story, and a story about what matters most in our lives and about faith in the broadest sense of the word. Dr Jones, the Sheik and Harriet are all loveable, not-to-unbelievable characters, with some more one-dimensional characters like Dr Jones' wife Mary and Colin, the Scottish gillie, thrown in for comedy. ( )
  petterw | Feb 16, 2014 |
Somewhat uneven, but it is all bailed out by the brilliance of this debut novel. I laughed a lot and at the same time I feel sad after finishing this it. Isn't it a sign of excellent work of fiction. ( )
  everfresh1 | Jan 24, 2014 |
This is a fine book. I did not think of it as humorous, it will make readers smile but not necessarily laugh. There are some rather deep moments. Overall a beautiful balance of a fine storyline, well designed and multidimensional characters, enough depth without ever losing momentum or becoming too philosophical. I would rate it 4 1/2 to 5 stars. ( )
  choly1 | Dec 14, 2013 |
This book started of very strong & very funny but then it just a little bogged down in itself. It was still mildly amusing towards but gone where the laugh out loud moments. The ending felt rushed and also out of place. Disappointed is putting it mildly.

I will probably try to read something else by Paul Torday. ( )
  ElaineRuss | Sep 23, 2013 |
I promised myself I'd read this before allowing myself to see the movie. I have to say, it was certainly a fun ride, and yet one that I think might make a good film. However, there do seem to be a few things that wouldn't translate.

That said, Torday certainly knows how to write sympathetic characters and put them in interesting situations. This one doesn't tie all the loose ends up at the end, and we wonder what happens with some of these people. That could be a good thing, but I somehow feel this concluded a touch too quickly - and perhaps a nice epilogue would have helped conclude just one or two things that felt a bit too unfinished. Even so, the style is solid and unique - and nothing like the other book of his I read - The Girl on the Landing! ( )
  Davida.Chazan | Sep 7, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:48 -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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