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Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Mediation Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; y First edition edition (September 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809027259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809027255
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #924,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The oral poetry of Yemeni tribesmen would seem an easy subject for a long, placid bout of scholarly research, but a crisis erupted during Caton's fieldwork in North Yemen, where he lived from 1979 to 1981, when a youth in his village abducted two young girls from a neighboring tribe. The kidnapping sparked a brief intertribal war with nationwide repercussions. The Yemenis hashed out the dispute in oral poetry recitations, and the author found in his arcane dissertation topic the perfect window onto the harsh cultural codes and byzantine politics of this fascinating society. A Harvard anthropologist, Caton (Lawrence of Arabia: A Film's Anthropology) provides many poetry samples along with detailed exegeses of the policy implications of their florid metaphors. (Imagine Social Security reform debate conducted in sonnet and haiku.) But his larger theme is the difficulty and danger of understanding an alien culture—Caton himself was briefly imprisoned on suspicion of espionage. He ruminates on the feasibility of the anthropological project, but without the pose of scholarly detachment; he writes of his feelings for and relationships with the people around him. The result is a superb study of an Arab nation and an engrossing portrait of a stranger in a strange land. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A Harvard anthropologist whose wanderlust and complex cultural identity suggest (and were perhaps inspired by) T. E. Lawrence, Caton has already written extensively on the prominence of poetry in Yemeni society, where chanted verse is an integral part of politics and intertribal dispute resolution. Caton's latest work engages the same subject matter in vivid firsthand context. As a graduate student researching oral poetry in a remote Yemeni village in 1979, Caton adopts local dress and chews khat with the locals out of respect for their culture as well as ethnographic legitimacy. But a dispute with a neighboring sheik, angry over the apparent kidnapping of his two young daughters, demonstrates both the strength and the limits of tribal generosity, and Caton is plunged into an anthropological spy thriller of sorts, surrounded by cultural mysteries and inexplicably imprisoned under suspicion of espionage. Despite such intrigues, Caton is not Indiana Jones, and this book's truly exciting focus is an intellectual one: poetry's power to mediate and explicate complex and perhaps intractable disputes. Strongly recommended for robust Middle East collections. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jedidiah Palosaari VINE VOICE on October 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Eric Hansen, and Kevin Rushby have all written excellent books vividly describing Yemen. They give us exciting travelogues and detailed descriptions of qat. And yet this book is the finest I've ever seen to describe what it's like to actually live there, and what modern Yemeni culture is. I felt like I was actually there, in a remote village to the East of Sana'a. I wanted to go to Yemen and experience more of the life Caton describes.

He shows us the mentality and life of the tribe in ethnography; he makes us part of his life through memoir. This allows us to simultaneously experience the emic and etic and gain the best of all worlds, understanding life through the eyes of ourselves and the observed. I feel for Caton as he frankly confesses his failings or perceived failings. He writes honestly, and at times more honestly than he realizes. Because Caton has such a thirst for poetry this book is an artistic work as well, and the poetry interspersed throughout the war and reconciliation attempts addresses both sides of the mind. It was fascinating to see how the possibility of war rested in large extent on what poems were produced, and how well-crafted the poetry was. I am inspired to learn and hear more Arabic poetry through this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert S. Newman VINE VOICE on August 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
A few years ago I read Steven Caton's "Peaks of Yemen, I Summon" and thought that it was a fabulously intelligent and well-done study which depicted the role of poetry in conflict resolution in Yemeni society. I remarked in my review that it would behoove our politicians, who are making decisions that affect both Yemen and America, to read the book and ponder its significance for their decisions. I had little hope that this would actually happen. When you read such books as Caton's and Paul Dresch's history and then read the newspaper accounts of events, or of US government policies, you can only despair. The present volume doesn't present such a wide picture of Yemen's society or politics, but rather places the anthropologist in his chosen research site and gives a wonderful picture of day-to-day Yemen. It is a study, if you wish, of "how it was done" and as an anthropologist who has done several bouts of field work, I may say that Caton's work was done with a great deal of difficulty. Yemen was never going to be easy given America's behavior in the Middle East and the complex conflicts in that once-remote nation. You may read "Peaks" first or this one, but they are each enriched by the other.

Not many anthropologists write the story of their research lives, but a few have. I am thinking of David Maybury-Lewis and "The Savage and the Innocent", of Hortense Powdermaker's "Stranger and Friend", and perhaps Paul Rabinow's "Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco". Then you might look at Margaret Mead's works and Malinowski's diaries, but they are more just thoughts put down while doing the work (latter) or carefully crafted later on (former). In recent decades it has become the fashion (if not obligatory) for the anthropologist to put herself/himself into the picture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By rhizomaticon on May 30, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Caton's work has become more personal over the years. Here he revisits his fieldwork in Yemen via a memoire that reads like a novel with engaging characters (not the least of which is Caton himself), plot, and dramatic action. By briefly dwelling on the anthropology of events, Caton uses his fieldwork experiences to illustrate the importance of this perspective and what can be forgotten in more traditional ethnographies (like his own Peaks of Yemen I Summon). Caton's sophisticated prose is deployed in sensitive descriptions of his friends' lives and how their dialectical interaction with each other and with their cultural milieu drive the dramatic events of his fieldwork. The descriptions of how poetry is composed de novo and performed spontaneously in response to events and other poets is absolutely fascinating and brings a vibrancy to this text too often absent in others. Students of anthropology have a lot to learn from this book not only from this sensitivity, but also from seeing the detailed methods and authentic tribulations of an anthropologist in the field. A refreshing contribution to the genre-- unburdened by theorizing or academicism, this would be a fine text for introductory anthropology courses as well as folks just looking for an enjoyable and engaging read, particularly if they do not know much about cultural anthropology but want to know more.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Caton combines a wonderful memoir of his time in Yemen with a specialist's explanation of Yemen's tribal poetry, its importance in easing social and political tensions, and how its best practictioners are so good at improvising verse on the spot.

This is a wonderful "landscape" painting of what was once a very rich and powerful country that is now struggling through resource shortages and undeclared civil wars.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Mansouri on January 9, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I liked the book as a model for what unexpected issues can come up during field work. I especially liked how reflexive the author was in his observations.
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