Saturday, January 22, 2011


I have just completed reading a book by Victoria Clark called “Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes”.

I found the book quite frustrating. It was good in parts and annoying in others.

Like many books written by a journalist, she intersperses the history of Yemen with accounts of her meetings with various people she met while researching the book. This is distracting, and often verges on the name-dropping. I wish she had put more effort into describing the way that the people of Yemen live from day to day.

The first half of the book gives the history of Yemen from beginnings of the Ottoman Empire up to the present day. She tells this story well, so I found this part of the book really helpful.

The second half of the book was really frustrating. It was mostly an assessment of Yemen as a partner with the UK and the USA in the War against Terrorism. She does not pause to ask, if Yemen should be joining in the so-called war. From this part of the book, I go the impression that she does not even like the Yemeni people, a fairly important requirement for writing a good book.

Only in the last few pages does she write about the political, economic and social forces that are pulling Yemen apart. I sense that she could have written much more on this theme, but was prevented from doing so by here editors, because it would not go down so well with the potential purchasers of the book in the UK and the USA. They do not want to understand Yemen. They just want a scapegoat to blame.

Yemen sits in a strategic place in the world. The more that we know about it the better. Despite my frustration with the book, I would encourage people to read it.

1 comment:

Noah said...

Interesting. I went to Yemen about 15 years ago. It was intriguing... very much locked in a previous era (somewhere between ancient past and post-colonialism).