From Publishers Weekly
A glittering emblem of global modernity carries a tinge of tribal clannishness and xenophobia in this revealing travelogue through the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Tatchell (The Poet of Baghdad), an English journalist who spent her youth in Abu Dhabi, compares the present city, with its skyscrapers, lavish malls, and Guggenheim branch, to the bedouin past it has all but obliterated. She finds that Abu Dhabi's 420,000 official citizens, with an average net worth of million in oil wealth, have traded their camels and tents for SUVs, condos, and glitzy, indolent jet-setting; surrounding them is a sea of exploited foreign guest workers, 80% of the population, who build and run the city while living in a stateless limbo. (There are secrets lurking behind the shopping and partying, she finds during a Kafkaesque quest to locate the national newspaper archive.) The author's teeming, sharply etched portrait introduces readers to tycoons, a wastrel playboy with a pet panther, a bored housewife trying to score bootleg liquor, avant-garde artists, nostalgic British expats, and a Lithuanian prostitute. Tatchell's keen powers of observation and personal connections enable her to convey the hidden reality of this mirage-like city.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In a delightfully nostalgic narrative that carries a hint of mystery, former expat Tatchell returns to the city of her childhood to see how it has changed. Veering far from the travelogue and steeped in an appreciation for Abu Dhabi’s past, Tatchell turns a keen eye on a place where money comes easily but cultural shifts are a different story. Grounding observations on everything from religion to politics is her initial, diversionary interest in a decades-old missing-child case. As Tatchell struggles to find any written evidence of the crime, she reframes her consideration of the city. “In Abu Dhabi,” she writes, “people are not so much amnesiacs as revisionists. When nothing is written down, the past becomes mutable . . . it can easily be reworked to fit the present. It is an entirely Abu Dhabi outlook on history.” As her family contributes revelations of their own, and old friends return to the scene, Tatchell returns to British explorer Wilfred Thesiger’s recollections of the region while pondering its future. Thoroughly disarming for any armchair traveler. --Colleen Mondor