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Eating the Flowers of Paradise: One Man's Journey Through Ethiopia and Yemen Hardcover – March 15, 1999

3.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 322 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st Edition Thus edition (March 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312217943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312217945
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,460,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on August 16, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted to visit Yemen. Like author Kevin Rushby, I didn't want to do research there, earn money there,. or take anything away from Yemen. I just wanted to see, hear, feel, and know what that faroff land was like. Thanks to my dear President and his warloving cronies, I now have a snowball's chance in hell of ever achieving my dream. Keep on shootin' George, you'll definitely solve all problems that way. I must say, though, that the next best thing to a Yemen trip could be reading EATING THE FLOWERS OF PARADISE. Though the story of the author's voyage centers around qat, a leaf from a tree which grows in Ethiopia and Yemen, whose leaves are chewed to induce a feeling of dreamy well-being and melancholy happiness, this is a travel book par excellence. While Rushby starts his solo voyage in Ethiopia, his lack of local language, and the general lack of information about Ethiopia other than what he sees and does himself, do not entrance the reader. (Nor does he travel in the more interesting parts of the country.) He meets some wild characters [a Nigerian gem smuggler named Cedric or Arthur or...?] and has a few strange adventures in Djibouti, on the Red Sea coast. It is when he lands in Yemen that the book really gets good. Rushby speaks some Arabic. Yemeni rural people come alive in this book, their villages, the hospitality of all, the terraced mountains where qat, coffee, and other crops are grown, the magnificent, rugged scenery of remote parts of the country. Readers may pick up some recent history, some facts about former times, and details of qat growing and use, but this is a very existential travel book, not given to long-winded explanations. Rushby makes no bones about it. He wandered the Yemeni "outback" looking for good highs.Read more ›
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By A Customer on August 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As travel writing goes, this was an okay book. Nothing memorable, but he did go to some interesting places and is a decent enough writer. That said, he also seems to be a bit of a twit, which became annoying at some points. It is actually amazing that he survived the journey, doing things like setting off to walk across the desert in Yemen from point A to point B, carrying a single bottle of mineral water which he then drops on the rocks.
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Format: Hardcover
I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with this book. Ethiopia & Yemen have to be two places that most westerners are completely ingnorant of, so I thought I would find the book completely fascinating. This, however, wasn't exactly the case. Rushby is an adequate story teller, and his observational skills are quite astute most of the time. The part of the book from Yemen is infinitely better than the part from Ethiopia. You can tell Yemen is where Rushby's heart is, he just did the Ethiopia thing in emulation of Sir Richard Burton (whose works are repeatedly alluded to.) There are some very funny parts including a Yemeni gas station where "you buy 4 drinks & you get a free hand grenade." Other interesting things about the book is his comparison of how different countries either exalt or villify qat. Overall, the book is worth reading, but it drags in some places...it took me a couple of months to get through it because I would get bored reading certain parts, but then would pick it back up and it always got better again. If you are into horticulutre, botany, or Yemeni culture I would definately recommend it, otherwise you are probably better off reading something else. For a great middle eastern travel book...I recommend "Baghdad Without A Map."
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kevin is a good artist. He vividly describes his travels, and you feel that you are there. For those places in Yemen where I have been, I felt like I was there again. He is accurate in his descriptions, as well as poetic- a rare art. His book is focused on a destination- traveling the old qat route, and this helps give more cohesiveness then you find in most travelogues. There is a rare vivid description of demonic manifestation and folk Islamic exorcism, in great detail. As an added bonus, the ubiquitous Tim Mackintosh-Smith shows up again, as he seems to do in every book about Yemen. We can see some of the same journeys Tim reports in Yemen, but from the perspective of his fellow traveler. And there is even an oblique reference to the boat of Eric Hansen from Motoring with Mohammed.

I value this book for the same reason I find it wanting. I wanted to learn more about qat- what I couldn't find anywhere else: how it effects you, to what extent it is addictive, what the side effects are. There is too much contradictory material in the literature, and so you almost have to go to an addict to discover these questions. And now having read Kevin, I am fairly sure that I will not do qat again.

Kevin is also a drug addict. He denies it, pointing out the difference between an true addict and the average qat user like himself. But what he describes has all the earmarks of addiction. Certainly, there appear to be no withdrawal pains- and again, information I had been unable to verify elsewhere.
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