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Eating the Flowers of Paradise: One Man's Journey Through Ethiopia and Yemen Hardcover – March 15, 1999
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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. But also he describes a constant desire to have the leaf, and a feeling of incompleteness without it. It has become the center of his life, and the life of many Yemeni, to hear Kevin tell it. They become quite cantankerous without their daily qat chew. This also is addiction. He also describes the side effects, depending on the variety of leaf, such as horrifying dreams and even an inability to fully comprehend life around you. Some of the dreams Kevin describes I'd frankly describe as demonic. He doesn't mention the increase in mouth cancer caused by the use of DDT on the leaves. Most significantly, it has a profound effect on the user, as told by Kevin. We learn that it changes your personality and emotional state, making you babble as if you were on marijuana, unable to remember the immediate past but to focus with great clarity on the distant past. It keeps you up for two days at a time, depressing appetite and sex drive significantly, which is helpful, as qat production leaves less arable land to grow crops in the poorest Arab country in the world. After stimulating you for hours, it leaves you slightly depressed. It seems to have the visions of LSD, the relaxation of marijuana, the depression of alcohol, and the addiction of caffeine and tobacco combined. It seems to be the perfect Soma- except that it tastes like hard, dried tea leaves without sugar.
But I don't want my mind altered, not even by Soma. It doesn't matter that there are no withdrawal effects- I don't want to experience demonic dreams and have my mood altered by a substance. I'd rather experience being drunk on God than a leaf. So I am quite thankful to Kevin for so vividly describing qat and how it works. Unfortunately, he is all praise of the plant, and does not realize what it does to him and many Yemeni.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Anything by Rushby is inherently readable.Read more