- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: Overlook Books; (2nd printing) edition (April 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1585671398
- ISBN-13: 978-1585671397
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,287,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Yemen: The Unknown Arabia Paperback – April 1, 2001
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“Mackintosh-Smith brings us to a place we don t know at all and lets us in . . . he seems incapable of writing a dull sentence, and in him the scholar, the linguist and the storyteller swap hats with marvelous speed.” —Jason Goodwin, The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Tim Mackintosh-Smith has lived in Yemen since 1982, earning the official title of Shaykh of Nazarenes. This, his first book, won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.
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The author is a long-standing resident of the capital San'a, and uses it as his base to explore the language and culture of greater Yemen, including some memorable expeditions into deserts and mountains, visiting remote villages and ancient ruins.
At times I found my attention straying when the narrative became bogged down in technicalities that held little interest for me, but in the main I was happy to travel along with Mackintosh-Smith, especially when he visited places like Aden and the island of Suqutra, themselves atypical of the rest of Yemen.
His exploration of Aden came at a time when the place was notorious for its nightlife (the early nineties) and incurred the condemnation of traditional Arabs. Good enough reason to visit it, the author felt. Consequently he finds himself in a night club with a disco ball and dance floor, plus a band that covered everything from Lebanese hits to Queen classics. To this reader's delight, he witnessed a local phenomenon in the form of the mutamaykalin, "the Michaelesques - the fans of Michael Jackson" who filled the dance floor.
Mackintosh-Smith's experiences in Yemen culminate in the political struggles of the early 1990's in the wake of the first Gulf War. I was left wishing for a sequel to find out what happened next for the qat-chewing, language-loving author. Never fear, "Yemen: The Unknown Arabia" was his first book (which, incidentally, won a Thomas Cook Travel Book Award)and three subsequent volumes sit in my stack of travel books, awaiting my attention: Hall of a Thousand Columns Travels with a Tangerine: From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam's Greatest Traveler The Travels of Ibn Battutah
It is also one of the few places where you can find a modern description of travels in Suqutra, which is worth getting the book by itself. The chapter on Suqutra describes a land isolated biologically for millions of years, displaying evidence of gigantisism as you find in Hawaii, where few predators have controlled the growth of fauna and especially flora. There are cucumber trees there, and others that look like upside-down umbrellas. Much of the flora and fauna are unique to the island. Further, severe storms six months of the year prevent access to the island. So, while over the years there have been invasions on the coast of the island by different parties, it has largely grown up unscathed into modern times. The language diverged from South Arabian in about 750 BC, and the people seem to be a mixture of Arabic, Greek, Portuguese, and Indian- but no one knows for sure. While they do now have cars (301 of them), the cigarette lighter is still an unknown machine. And since the government severely limits non-Yemeni visitors to the island, this is a rare and exciting bit of a story of what the people are like. I only wish there was more about the island.
I don't want to take the stars away from the book though. The author also has a video of his adventures in Yemen done with a camcorder but I found it to be interesting as well.
He's certainly a character who has followed his dream.
I recommend for those interested in the Middle East and especially Yemen.