From Library Journal
The title refers to qat, a leaf that when chewed produces a hypnotic effect. When Rushby was teaching English in Yemen, he became enraptured by the drug, which is central to Yemeni social life. Back in Britain and feeling nostalgic several years later, he decided to go back and follow the ancient trade routes of qat, which overlapped the routes of Arthur Rimbaud and the explorer Richard Burton. Rushby's vivid writing reveals places that few visit: Southern Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen. He meets strange and sometimes dangerous characters but finds generosity almost everywhere he goes. This may be how he manages to keep his sense of humor and enthusiasm even when dealing with angry, gun-toting officials or negotiating treacherous hikes along steep mountain passes. This travelog is a little too much of an ode to qat, and because of the nature of the societies Rushby visits, you only get a view of the men's world. Still, this is entertaining reading; recommended for large public and academic libraries.AKathleen A. Shanahan, American Univ Lib., Washington, DC
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A superior travel narrative of the qat trail, its history and strange quirks, and very strange characters, from newcomer Rushby. Qat is a brilliant green leaf that can be seen ``flashing like a broken traffic light'' in mouths from northeast Africa to the Arabian Peninsula (and many points beyond, where citizens from these lands have settled). Its effects are highly individualized, and its reputation is not agreed upon: ``legal in Britain, banned in the USA, celebrated in Yemen, vilified in Saudi Arabia.'' But there is no disputing its pivotal role in the poetry, music, architecture, and family relations of Ethiopia and Yemen, not to mention in television schedules, road-building, and economic status. Rushby engrossingly outlines all of these effects. He had been familiar with the drug for a number of years before he decided to follow the qat route from Harrar overland to Djibouti, across the Red Sea to the coffee port of Mokha, then into the hills of the two Yemens, before anchoring in San'a. It was far from a comfortable journey, but Rushby makes light humor of its tribulations and brings an enormous brio to his subject. His travels are not just in pursuit of the history and culture of qat, for he quickly learns that the pleasure of the plant is in the companionship of using it. Hes a humble pilgrim and a shrewd witness, open to the tales and legends (some of the shaggy variety and some fantastic) told by cabbies and goldsmiths, fakirs and foreign legionnaires and fellow travelers. There is a polish to his descriptions of landscape, thoroughness to his political geographies and social observations, and savvy to his handling of dicey situations with authorities. Like its subject, Rushby's book can loosen ones mooring to the everyday world, conveying the reader to darkened rooms high above ancient, exotic cities. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.