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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Paperback – April 21, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 208 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

British businessman and dedicated angler Paul Torday has found a way to combine a novel about fishing and all that it means with a satire involving politics, bureaucrats, the Middle East, the war in Iraq, and a sheikh who is really a mystic. Torday makes it all work in a most convincing way using memos, interviews, e-mails, and letters in clever juxtaposition.

Dr. Alfred Jones is a fisheries scientist in Great Britain who is called upon to find a way to introduce salmon into the desert in Yemen. The Yemeni sheikh will spare no expense to see this happen. He says:

It would be a miracle of God if it happened. I know it... If God wills it, the summer rains will fill the wadis... and the salmon will run the river. And then my countrymen... all classes and manner of men--will stand side by side and fish for the salmon. And their natures, too, will be changed. They will feel the enchantment of this silver fish... and then when talk turns to what this tribe said or that tribe did... then someone will say, "Let us arise, and go fishing."

Such is the sheikh's vision. He tells Alfred: "Without faith, there is no hope. Without faith, there is no love." Alfred has no religious faith and has been mired in a loveless marriage for twenty years, so these words seem fantastic to him.

Alfred and Sheikh Muhammad connect immediately through their mutual love of fishing, despite Alfred's misgivings about the viability of the project. The Prime Minister's flack man tells Alfred that he must persevere and succeed because Great Britain needs some positive connection to the Middle East, something other than a failing, flailing war. These kinds of political alliances are always shaky at best, and when things start to go sideways, allies have a way of disappearing. Alfred soldiers on, with the help of the lovely Harriet, Sheikh Muhammad's land agent, and the project is readied for opening day, when the Sheikh and the Prime Minister will have a 20-minute photo op.

All of the faith and good will in the world cannot overcome the forces ranged against them, bringing tragedy to everyone involved. Despite all, Alfred's interior life is changed immeasurably. He says in the end: "I believe in it, because it is impossible." --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In Torday's winningly absurdist debut, Dr. Alfred Jones feels at odds with his orderly life as a London fisheries scientist and husband to the career-driven Mary, with whom he shares a coldly dispassionate relationship. Just as Mary departs for a protracted assignment in Geneva, Alfred gets consulted on a visionary sheik's scheme to introduce salmon, and salmon-angling, to the country of Yemen. Alfred is deeply skeptical (salmon are cold-water fish that spawn in fresh water; Yemen is hot and largely desert), but the project gains traction when Peter Maxwell, the prime minister's director of communications, seizes on it as a PR antidote to negative press related to the Iraq war. Alfred is pressed by his superiors to meet with the sheik's real estate rep, the glamorous young Harriet, and embarks on a yearlong journey to realize the sheik's vision of spiritual peace through fly-fishing for the people of Yemen. British businessman and angler Torday captures Alfred's emerging humanity, Maxwell's antic solipsism, Mary's calculating neediness and Harriet's vulnerability, presenting their voices through diaries, e-mails, letters and official interviews conducted after the doomed venture's surprisingly tragic outcome. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (April 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156034565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156034562
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (208 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an original novel. The plot revolves around an absurdist plan by a devoutly religious sheik and fishing aficonado who wants to introduce salmon into his native Yemen. He comissions Alfred Jones, a gentle mannered fisheries scientist to assist him, and the vulnerable, pretty Harriet, an administrator, to make the plan work. Salmon are a cold water fish, the chances of them surviving in a desert climate are remote. The plot sounds ludicrous - and it is. Even more so once the story swings into political satire mode when the Prime Minister, spun a merry dance by his odious Press Secretary, Peter Maxwell (anyone familiar with the 'Little Britain' comedy series - think Sebastian!), becomes involved as a means of getting positive coverage out of the region to deflect attention from the Iraq conflict.

The story, told in fragmentary style through emails, diaries, memos and extracts from unpublished books, becomes complex, as several plots unfold involving Harriet's fiance posted on military duty in Iraq, Alfred's marriage to workaholic sourpuss Mary who is similarly on duty - to her job - for a bank in Geneva, the machinacions of political spin and Al Quaeda, who oppose the project as it is ungodly. All of this is right on the topical money. The story of Harriet's fiance, Robert, in particular has special topical relevance in light of the March 2007 hostage crisis in Iran when British servicemen were accused of straying into Iranian territory. The quality of the prose sags in places, and its tone is somewhat Pooterish in the style of those gentle oh so polite English novels of the earlier 20th Century, much satirised by Cyril Connolly. 'I was somewhat alarmed to discover that...' Elmore Leonard, this ain't.
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Format: Hardcover
(4.5 stars) One of the most delightful and original satires I've read in ages, this debut novel pokes fun at every aspect of British society, from government spin-meisters and crass politicians to marriages of convenience, TV interview programs, consumerism, and the belief that many of the world's problems would be solved if only other people were "more like us." This satire is particularly refreshing, however, since the author writes it with a smile on his face, preferring to prick balloons with his witty needling, rather than wield a rapier in a slashing attack.

The absurdity begins on the first page, when mild-mannered and unimaginative Dr. Alfred Jones, a fisheries specialist, receives a letter asking for his participation in a project to introduce Scottish salmon and the sport of salmon fishing into the wadis of the Yemen during the yearly rains. Alfred finds the whole idea ludicrous and ignores the letter, until the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and eventually the prime minister weigh in. The PM's office favors this effort for its "environmental message," the new links it will forge to a Middle Eastern country, and not incidentally, the huge, positive news story that may push stories of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia off the front page.

Through letters, e-mails, memos, diary entries, newspaper articles, records of the House of Commons, interviews, and even intercepted al-Qaeda e-mail traffic, the story of Alfred's efforts to create a suitable environment for salmon in the mountains of western Yemen unfolds.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
You know this, right? Yemen, previously called "The Yemen," lies on the fringe of the Arabian Peninsula as is best known today as a world-class producer of sand, desert heat, and political violence. Salmon are, of course, cold-water fish that are challenging to catch with a rod and reel but taste all the better once caught. So, we're on the same page, yes?

Now consider the chances of finding a novel that adroitly mixes not just Yemen and salmon fishing but also the British Parliament, Al Qaeda, a mystical sheikh, the art of public relations, a sad love story, and a journey of self-discovery. Before I read this book, I would have defied anyone to accomplish that seemingly impossible task. But Paul Torday has managed to do so, brilliantly, producing a satirical treatment of British politics that is alternately affecting and screamingly funny.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the first of British author Paul Torday's six novels to date. Written when he was 59 years old at the end of a successful business careeer, the book reportedly allowed him to write about what he knows best (as every teacher urges in Creative Writing 101). As you might guess, what Paul Torday appears to know best are salmon fishing and the Middle East, and the resulting novel is the unique expression of a genuine talent.

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Format: Paperback
This book delivers a writing style which is both new and rejuvenating.

Classically loyal to the concept of bureaucratic ploy, the plot of the book delivers a contradictory premise: evidencing a government bureaucracy becoming involved and fulfilling a "dead at arrival" concept of infusing salmon (a cold water fish) to the hot arid lands of Yemen.

Conscripted by his government to aid in the development of a sheikh's passion to deliver fish of the northern hemisphere to his equatorial land, the protagonist, Dr. Alfred Jones, initially eschews the requests demanded of him. It is preposterous, he thinks -as does anyone else. To be called upon to deliver an act which would ordinarily be deemed an exclusive right for the almighty, Dr. Jones understands that he needs to keep his job and thereupon surveys the concept and architects the impossible dream. And, does it become realty? You will have to read it to find out.

The writing style is what makes this book both comical and seemingly relevant. It includes: numerous e-mails between Jones and his career-driven Oxford educated (he is too) wife who leaves his home for an opportunity to make even more money than he does (a fact she too often reminds him about in their e-mail correspondence); journal entries by the protagonist; articles from various newspapers; transcripts of television accounts; transcripts of interrogations relating to criminal and other acts; intergovernmental memoranda; intergovernmental e-mails; and (my favorite), transcripts of Parliamentary sessions which involve the salmon issue as well as lost soldier Robert - whose betrothed works with Dr. Jones.

The prose often delivers other delicious items.
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