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BOOK REVIEW: The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani


A nameless young woman in 17th-century Persia lives in a modest village with her parents, who expect to see their 14-year-old daughter married in the next year. The delight of both her parents, the young woman has learned the art of rug making from her beloved father. Soon after a comet in the skies signals misfortune, her father dies leaving her without a dowry. Facing starvation if they stay in their village, she and her mother sell a beautiful turquoise rug she made to pay for the journey to Isfahan where her rich uncle works as a rug designer in the Shah’s court. While Gostaham welcomes them to his home, his wife Gordiyeh immediately puts them to work as unpaid servants and loses no opportunity to remind them of the strain they place on the household.

Seeing in her shadows of his own eagerness to learn the art of rug-making, her uncle agrees to teach her about designing carpets; however, while her talent blooms, her prospects for a prosperous marriage dim for she is without a significant dowry. When her elders receive an offer of a sigheh of three months (a legal contract for a temporary marriage) from a wealthy young man, they force her to accept and give up her only item of value, her virginity. As she looks at a future of short-term sighehs, the young heroine must decide whether to take a chance and choose her own way, a life of independence.

The Blood of Flowers is a tightly written, deeply hued work, all the more astonishing for being a debut novel. Even though it is set in the 17th-century Persia, The Blood of Flowers feels very modern. The world it describes is so foreign to most Western readers that the time period is almost irrelevant. Anita Amirrezvani opens a hidden world to readers; the life of women hidden behind veils and walls, enjoyed either in brutal poverty or pampered luxury. The politics and daily aspects of their lives are brought vividly to life through the minute details woven throughout the narrative.

Even though Gordiyeh treats her as a servant and with ruthlessness, her actions make sense given the realities facing women in this time period. The heroine acts at times with unbelievable foolishness, destroying a less than perfect rug in her haste to create the beautiful one she sees within her head and please her uncle. Her selfishness and lack of reason leads readers to understand why both her mother and uncle are at times harsh in their treatment of her. Despite the familial conflict and unbelievable decisions made by her elders, there is no clear-cut villain in Amirrezvani’s mesmerizing novel. While readers may have difficulty understanding the decisions her family makes, within the realities of the young heroine’s situation, it can be argued there were few other options.

In a world where women have little control over their lives, minute control over little things becomes all important and with this understanding, many of the actions begin to make sense. Gordiyeh is desperate to maintain her position in society and the security of her opulent lifestyle. Nadeen’s desperate hope is to marry the man she loves while also maintaining her standard of living. The heroine’s mother hopes only to avoid a life on the street and some security after the death of her husband. When facing choices such as these, sacrificing the hopes and dreams of another, for personal gain, makes some sense.

Like the expensive rugs described in The Blood of Flowers which require careful balancing of patterns and colour, Amirrezvani understands that an emotionally fraught story requires a solid base and moments of respite from the turmoil. Interspersed throughout the narrative, are detailed descriptions of carpet making; from design to knotting techniques and the processing of selling the resulting masterpieces. The most expensive carpets contain stories and meaning. They serve to “respond to cruelty, suffering, and sorrow…to remind the world of the face of beauty, which can best restore a man’s tranquility, cleanse his heart of evil, and lead him to the path of truth.” The traditional folktales scattered throughout The Blood of Flowers serve the same purpose, reminding both the heroine and readers that beauty does exist despite the ugliness of her personal situation. The folktales cast illumination upon the situations she faces through gentle guidance rather than harsh moralizing. It is here, in her ability to strike this balance, that Amirrezvani’s nine years of research and writing are most apparent.

Note: The Blood of Flowers is a nominated title in the Hidden Treasures contest and a copy is available as one of the many prizes. If this review has piqued your desire to read the book, why not participate in the contest – perhaps you’ll win a copy generously provided by Little, Brown & Company! The contest runs for two more weeks.

ISBN10: 0316065765
ISBN13: 9780316065764

384 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Publication Date: June 5, 2007
Book Website:
Read an excerpt of the novel here.


BOOK REVIEW: The Cruel Stars of the Night by Kjell Eriksson


Laura Hindersten’s father has gone missing and, while he may have just took off without telling her (though tyrannical, he is exceptionally eccentric), she is convinced something horrible has happened to him. The members of the Uppsala Violent Crime Division are certain the professor – an expert on the Renaissance poet Petrarch – will turn up, much more concerned with the murders of several elderly men in the region and how that may affect the upcoming visit by Queen Silvia, scheduled to arrive in a few days to open the new Academic Hospital.

Police Inspector Ann Lindell suspects there may be links the murders and the missing Professor, a hunch born out by evidence presented by a colleague of the Professor. As the body count and public anxiety increases, the pressure on Lindell and the rest of the team to determine if the deaths are the work of a serial killer.

The Cruel Stars of the Night, sequel to Kjell Eriksson’s critically acclaimed debut The Princess of Burundi, once again features the Uppsala Violent Crime Division and Police Inspector Ann Lindell. Police procedurals are standard mystery fare, yet Eriksson takes this well-worn formula and crafts something extraordinary. His character-drive mysteries feature an ensemble “cast” and the personality and motivation of each member of the Uppsala Violent Crime Division is fleshed out in tandem with the details of the case. Eriksson’s police men and women are very human, each with their own way of balancing work and home. Lindell, a single parent raising a young son, wonders if she is a “good” parent while coping with loss and loneliness.

This is not an action-filled thriller. Eriksson lets the tension build slowly, playing out the psychological clues like an expert angler – ensuring his audience is hooked before ratcheting up the tension. Readers may be able to takes breaks from Eriksson’s work in the early chapters; however, once the pieces begin to fall together, The Cruel Stars of the Night becomes impossible to put down.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0312366671
ISBN13: 9780312366674

320 Pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: Out of Character by Vanessa Craft


Journalist Emma Gordon lives a staid, unremarkable life, most of which is spent within books. Haunted by the memory of her mother’s abandonment and struggling with her father Jack’s impending marriage, Emma seeks refuge with her favourite fictional characters avoiding a reality she can’t handle. Jack is convinced Emma is wasting her time at Oxygen magazine and is dismayed at her lack of ambition.

Seeking something she hasn’t been able to define, Emma finds herself volunteering to go undercover in one of London’s top gentlemen’s clubs surprising even herself. Completely out of her depth in this glittering world of sex, power and facades, Emma struggles to find her feet and the angle for her story while trying to create an alter-ego who can succeed where shy Emma can not. Drawn into the unreality of life at Platinum, the lines between Emma’s role as an undercover journalist and the increasingly fascinating life of a top earning stripper begin to blur until the night that Jack finds her mid-dance and they must finally deal with their past.

Out of Character, the debut novel from lifestyle journalist Vanessa Craft, germinated from a visit Craft made to one of London’s top gentlemen’s clubs to visit a friend who was dancing. She inadvertently spotted a colleague at the tip rail and from that glimpse came the moment of dénouement when Jack spots Emma on stage and a novel where Craft could explore the idea of two worlds colliding and its impact on ego and identity.

In Emma Gordon, Craft has created a fascinating heroine. Readers will be mesmerized by the journey Emma undergoes from a tourist of her own life to the birth of Phoenix, her seductive alter ego. Finding her place within the glittering world of Platinum is a struggle for Emma, who has spent years being an invisible observer of life. Her first night dancing stage ends with her heel caught in her dress and catapulting head first into a customer’s lap. Emma embodies the awkward, self-conscious child found inside everyone and readers will quickly empathize with her and glory in her new found confidence.

While Craft never explicitly questions the role of identity in maintaining a connection to reality, this is an underlying theme within Out of Character. Emma has lived without a strong link to the world since her mother’s sudden departure, with Jack providing his skewed perspective where money and power are the only goal worth pursuing. It is unsurprising then that her identity has been so easy to walk away from. Emma’s whole life has been about creating alternate realities and adopting the persona of Phoenix is incredibly seductive. Phoenix is powerful and confident in her own sexuality and attractiveness, and provides a certainty which Emma has never possessed and always wanted.

Out of Character is a difficult novel to put down. This reviewer approached the book with doubts, uncertain how it could be about empowerment when dealing with exotic dancers. Craft doesn’t directly approach issues of feminism, choosing instead to frame it within Emma’s personal journey. While readers will find few obvious answers, the questions raised will continue to engage readers and it is anticipated that Out of Character will provoke fascinating book group debates.

View the book’s trailer here.

ISBN10: 1552638235
ISBN13: 9781552638231

Trade Paperback
288 Pages
Publisher: Key Porter Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Petropolis by Anya Ulinich


Sasha Goldberg, a mixed-race Russian Jew, lives with her mother in Asbestos 2, once a Stalinist model town but now only a place from which to escape. Lubov, Sasha’s domineering mother, is determined that despite the mediocrity of their surroundings her daughter will have all the benefits of a bourgeois upbringing. Too pudgy for ballet and with no musical gifts, Sasha’s only talent is for art and so she undertakes art lessons in a damp apartment block basement. There she discovers passion, falling in love with an art-school drop-out who lives in a concrete pipe in the dump outside town. Their brief romance leads to pregnancy and outrage from Lubov.

Determined that her daughter will still have a chance at success, Lubov takes baby Nadia as her own and sends Sasha off to art school in Moscow. Sasha is not at home at the art school, for her mother cheated and sent in the drop-out’s art work and claimed it was the work of Sasha. In a bid to escape and find the father who left her behind, Sasha signs up as a mail-order bride and lands in Arizona as the teenage bride of an old-fashioned Russian. Each step Sasha takes to carve a new life for herself leads to increasingly absurd realities and Sasha’s journey becomes a surreal modern-day Odyssey, as she seeks her father and ultimately herself.

Petropolis is the debut novel of Anya Ulinich and readers may be forgiven for the belief that much of this novel is autobiographical. Like Sasha, Anya emigrated from Russia to the United States when she was 17, learned English from watching TV and attended art school. The assumption that this is merely a memoir masquerading as a novel does Ulinich’s writing a great disservice, not only because Petropolis is a biting satire of the coming-of-age novel as a genre but also because she writes black, screwball comedy so incredibly well, especially when one remembers she is writing in her second language.

Petropolis, while certainly containing a great deal of immigrant humour, quickly moves beyond the stereotypical into parody and farce. Ulinich pushes readers beyond their comfort zone but never sinks into Borat-style humour. The extreme situations are designed to throw startling light on the hopelessness of life in Siberia and the overwhelming desperation Sasha feels to escape. Coming-of-age in this situation is not a journey of self-discovery, rather a desperate attempt to find a way to merely exist, outside the servitude to poverty’s daily grind.

While Petropolis, is mainly a commentary on the immigrant experience, it also presents an unique look at mother-daughter relationships. Ulinich seems to be addressing a fundamental question “what affect will extreme poverty and a wish for a better future for your child have on the parent-child relationship?” Lubov is desperate for her daughter to escape life in Asbestos 2 and the decisions she makes appear hard and without consideration for Sasha’s dreams. As Sasha grows through her experiences, she is able to develop some understanding of her mother’s motivation and this gradual melting of the ice between them is one of the truly heart-wrenching aspects of the novel.

Ulinich prevents her novel devolving into slapstick by maintaining Sasha’s fundamental humanity at the centre of her novel. Sasha, like many immigrants, is a survivor and her ability to maintain hope, no matter what life throws at her, is what makes her such a mesmerizing heroine. Readers will soon find themselves deeply enamored of Sasha, for her dry wit, unique perspective on all things American and her huge heart.

Note: I have offered this book as a prize in the Hidden Treasures review contest. To learn more about the contest (which begins on July 15), click here. Enter early and often – there are a lot of great prizes from a number of publishers.

ISBN10: 0670038199
ISBN13: 9780670038190

336 Pages
Publisher: Viking USA
Publication Date: February 20, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: The Brambles by Eliza Minot


Arthur Bramble, widowed patriarch of the Bramble clan, is moving east to live with his daughter Margaret during the final stages of cancer. As he moves into the final stages of his life, his three children face crisis in their own. Margaret, stay-at-home mother of three, seems adrift in her own life, drawn by its currents rather than any purpose of her own design. Max has quite his job as an independent film producer but still leaves each new wife and baby each morning as if going to the office. Edie, newly single, barely manages to cope with her eating disorder and the drive west to pick up her father. As each Bramble faces Arthur’s death, secrets will be uncovered and lives remade during one unforgettable summer.

The Brambles, Eliza Minot’s second novel, is the story about the moment of change in a life. Each of the Bramble children’s lives is in some way on hold. Whether it is due to the death of their mother or external forces, each has become mired and unable to move forward. Margaret has given up her New York City job and has devoted her life to raising her children, losing her individual identity and become a reflection of her children and their needs. As her husband Brian says to her: “Face it…you’ve been thrown into neutral.” Max has quit his job and has hidden the fact from his wife for three weeks, frozen by the new responsibilities of both father and husband. Edie has become obsessed with food, using it to hide from her growing depression and sense of purposelessness.

Arthur’s death is the plot device Minot uses to pull the disparate stories of Margaret, Max and Edie together, providing the intersection of their spheres. Rather than being the catalyst for self-discovery or create a moment of family unity, Arthur’s last journey merely sheds light on the isolation and disorder on each sibling’s life.

The Brambles contains little action and really is a collection of the mundane moments present in anyone’s life. Minot takes these inconsequential moments and through her magical prose creates a touching narrative on three troubled inner lives.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1400077524
ISBN13: 9781400077526

Trade Paperback
256 Pages
Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date: June 12, 2007


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BOOK REVIEW: Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert


Gabriel Blackstone is an information pirate. He began his career as a “remote viewer (RV)” for Eyestorm, a government-run institution which trained psychics and individuals able to tap into the consciousness of others and “slam the ride.” After a ride ends with a murdered child rather than an incarcerated kidnapper, Gabriel walks away from Eyestorm and focuses solely on making money. His chosen profession is hacker for hire, getting his thrills from riding the information highway and penetrating closely guarded corporate networks.

Life gets complicated when Cecily Franck reappears in Gabriel’s life, asking him to investigate the disappearance of her stepson Robert. Cecily is an RV, as well as his former lover, a relationship which ended with his departure from Eyestorm. Reluctantly Gabriel looks into Robert’s relationships and soon believes that Robert was murdered by one of two sisters – Morrighan or Minnaloushe Monk. Descendants of occultist John Dee, the Monk sisters are “solar” witches engaged in alchemy and the “Art of Memory,” a process of building memory palaces in the mind to achieve transformation and ultimate power. After hacking into their computer, Gabriel discovers a diary written by “M” and soon is captivated, falling deeply in love with the writer. Now to save himself, he must uncover which sister is the writer – Minnaloushe, the romantic intellectual or Morrighan, the daring adventurer – and find out if the woman he loves killed Robert.

As Season of the Witch opens, Gabriel is little more than a cardboard character, the stereotypical action hero brashly confident of his own abilities. Instead of being repulsed by this, readers should persist with the story for Mostert slowly peels away the layers to show Gabriel as a flawed human, hiding within a shell of arrogance and superiority. Mostert’s writing immerses readers within a world of artifice and construction, where everything possesses multiple layers of meaning. She ensures that by the critical plot moment, readers care deeply about Gabriel and identify with him, flaws and all.

Mostert’s attention to character development does not end with Gabriel. Minnaloushe and Morrighan are both lovingly drawn with each possessing a distinct personality and manner of speech. The secondary characters are also infused with the necessary small details to flesh out their character. Isidore, Gabriel’s business partner, is quickly defined by his love of loud music and the virtual world and early on in the novel his personality comes close to overwhelming that of Gabriel.

Season of the Witch is a carefully constructed mystery, one which exposes greater depths with each reading. Extensive research into alchemy, history, the occult, theories of memory and philosophy has obviously been carried out by Mostert and she possesses vast knowledge of her chosen subject. Mostert has placed the Monk sisters’ grail quest within a modernistic setting, fusing the modern with the data storage methods of an earlier age to create a wholly unique commentary on memory within the information age. As an academic explains to Gabriel “Our memories have become flaccid because of all the technological tools we use…Citizens of Ancient Greece and Rome would find your attention span laughable…Modern man is increasingly incapable of internalizing knowledge…we…forget what we’ve read almost as soon as we’ve read it.” Her choice of topic – the drive for gnosis, knowledge of the universe and enlightenment – dares readers to engage with her novel as more than just entertainment. She expects readers to face her challenge and expand their knowledge and understanding of the world.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0525950036
ISBN13: 9780525950035

416 Pages
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: April 24, 2007
Author Website:


posted under fiction, mystery | 3 Comments »

BOOK REVIEW: Austenland by Shannon Hale


Jane Hayes is obsessed with Fitzwilliam Darcy and she blames the BBC. She could swoon at the romance of Pride and Prejudice and still lead a normal life; that is, until the BBC put a face to Darcy and then all was lost. Now she’s stashing her double DVD set in her potted plants like she has a guilty secret. It’s just her luck that her Great-Aunt Carolyn finds her secret stash and is convinced that Jane has put her life on hold to wait for Darcy. Unfortunately she also knows that it’s not just any Darcy, but Colin Firth’s Darcy, and so Carolyn sets in motion an ingenious plan to cure Jane once and for all.

After Carolyn dies, Jane discovers she’s been left an unusual legacy – three weeks at an English country home dedicated to Austen-addicts. Attired in empire-waist gowns and bound by Regency-era etiquette, Jane decides she’ll indulge her passion to its fullest, live the fantasy and then give up men for good. Will she be able to give up her addiction or will she be stuck in Austenland?

Jane Austen’s novels have inspired generations of novelists whose works pay tribute through both style and content. Shannon Hale’s newest novel Austenland very ably does both and fans of Austen’s works will find much in this delightful novel that is familiar. Jane Hayes is seeking a Darcy of her own and naturally her character mirrors many of Elizabeth Bennett’s character traits, especially her use of language and wit. Yet at times Jane’s personality calls to mind other, gentler, Austen heroines, most notably Fanny Price from Mansfield Park, and at times even Mrs. Bennett.

Plot elements from all the novels are incorporated into the make-believe world of Austenland. Miss Heartwright was convinced to turn down a proposal from a naval captain and now fate has conspired to have them reunited (Persuasion). A theatrical production is staged (Mansfield Park) and of course, Miss Jane Erstwhile and Mr. Nobley meet and begin a verbal battle of wills (Pride and Prejudice).

Hale excels at writing Austen-like dialogue and in this arena Austenland truly shines.

Miss Erstwhile: “It is such a relief, Mr. Nobley, to already know that you find this exercise vulgar and your partner unworthy. It saves us the idle chitchat.”

Mr. Nobley: “And yet you chat away.”

Aunt Saffronia: “Lovely dance! Shall I play another?”

Miss Erstwhile: “What say you, Mr. Nobley? Ready to be done with me?”

“I think…” He bowed. “I think I will retire early. I bid you a good evening.”

Will Austenland cure readers of the search for their own Mr. Darcy? Likely not, but they will have an enjoyable read whilst trying.

ISBN10: 1596912855
ISBN13: 9781596912854

208 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: May 27, 2007


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BOOK REVIEW: Homeland by Paul William Roberts


“At the end of WWII we were the only great power left unscathed by the carnage. We could have used this advantage for peace. Instead we started another war, which consumed the minds and the money that could have made America the earthly paradise.” – Homeland (pg. 49)

The year is 2050 and the United States has reinvented itself as a paranoid super-state, sealing itself off from the rest of the world. After the end of the Cold War, the efforts of the United States Military were focused inward and a policy of isolationism was implemented. For reasons of National Security, the President and Vice President are no longer publicly identified.

Most of America’s cities have faded and much of the country is a wasteland. Due to global warming, New York City is now underwater and operates as a theme park. Washington, DC is visited only by those on official business. David Leverett, a former policy advisor who played a major role in the development of the policies which have led to the current state of affairs. As last remaining player in these events, Leverett reflects on his role from the end of the Carter era to present and in the process exposes the backroom dealings and power plays which led to America’s destruction and rebirth as US-Global.

Homeland, Paul William Roberts’ new novel, is a cautionary tale against the Hobbesian belief in vogue with the current American administration, that “might makes right.” Drawing upon historical events and real people, Roberts weaves together a disturbing dystopian vision of our future; one which seems all too possible if the current policy for National Security continues. The belief that American must always be the most powerful military force is taken one step further in Homeland, as Leverett and his colleagues implement a foreign policy of preemptive wars/action; that is, deal with all potential threats before they become a problem.

Presented as the diary of Leverett, Homeland reads like a course on political philosophy and even includes policy briefing documents. The first third is very discursive on various schools of political theory, leading the reader through Leverett’s political education during his early years in Washington.

What is most compelling about this novel is the window it presents on the happenings between the last months of President Carter’s term and the presidency of George W. Bush. Homeland is one of the first anti-Iraq War novels, as Tony Christini states in his thoughtful essay its “focus is important.” He suggests that too little public-themed fiction is being published and that: “Fiction by way of its aesthetic charge, its conceptual flexibility, and its potent personal focus is one of the most powerful means available for cutting people and their ideas down to size, or conversely, for lifting them up – for halting and for propagating.” No matter that Homeland isn’t a conspiracy thriller as traditionally imagined by readers, there is enough here to give even the most jaded politico pause.

Perhaps the most disturbing theory expounded in Homeland is this: “you know, there’s a small number of men who know the detailed truth; the masses are told what they need to know and no more…Free inquiry outside the bounds of revelation is dangerous.” (pg. 82) Given the amount of controversy this novel is sure to engender, Roberts’ decision to propel readers outside the boundaries is a brave one. Whether he will find the audience and attention this book deserves is another matter entirely.

ISBN10: 1552638189
ISBN13: 9781552638187

303 Pages
Publisher: Key Porter Books
Publication Date: September 15, 2006


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BOOK REVIEW: The Rent Collector by B. Glen Rotchin


Publisher’s Synopsis:
“The fashion business meets Kabbalah in Montreal’s garment district.

In a novel that does for Chabanel Street what Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz did for St. Urbain Street, a 36-year-old Orthodox Jew, Gershon Stein, collects rent in a large industrial building in the heart of Montreal’s needletrade. Meanwhile, he struggles to reconcile his relationship with his ailing Holocaust-survivor father, find balance in his family life, and match wits with his arch-nemesis, Joey Putkin, an Israeli leather coat manufacturer leasing the basement of his building.

Gershon’s days are occupied by an array of colourful tenants: Arnie Free, who makes footwear for Hasidic Jews and strippers; Sonny Lipsey, whose shtick is giving industry characters the perfect nicknames; and the delicate Michelle Labelle, whose face seems to emit a mysterious light. If there is one thing Gershon knows, it’s that life is rented and everyone has a debt to pay: to their landlord, their family, their community, and, most of all, to their soul.”

I fully intended to write a review about this exceptional debut novel (named as a finalist for the prestigious in Canada First Novel Award); however, after pondering The Rent Collector for many weeks, and reading several amazing reviews, I realized that anything I say will be lifted from one of those reviews. Instead, I’m providing links to several of the reviews and will allow the reviewers to speak for themselves.

Do yourself a favour, run out and buy this book!

Between God and schmatte – review by Brett Hooton at

Review: The Rent Collector – review by Charles Demers at Seven Oaks Magazine
– Demers’ interview with B. Glen Rochin

Review by Kristine Kowalchuk at Montreal Review of Books (mRb), a publication of the Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec

ISBN10: 1550651951
ISBN13: 9781550651959

Trade Paperback
228 Pages
Publisher: Esplanade Books
Publication Date: April 1, 2006

Véhicule Press – Celebrating Literature

About Véhicule Press:
For over thirty years Véhicule Press has been publishing prize-winning books: poetry, fiction, social history, Quebec Studies, Jewish studies, jazz history, and restaurant guides. Esplanade Books is the fiction imprint of Véhicule Press. Esplanade publishes novels and short story collections–books that fall between the cracks, works of unusual structure and form, short sharp monologues.


BOOK REVIEW: Salmon Fishing in Yemen by Paul Torday


On the eve of his twentieth wedding anniversary, Dr. Alfred Jones decides it is time to begin reflecting on his marriage and his life, capturing in his diary “the increasing sense of intellectual and emotional restlessness which has grown in me as I approach middle age.” His life has been directed by his managing wife Mary and his greatest achievement at the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence (NCFE) is his study on the “Effects of increased water acidity on the caddis fly larva.” His life takes a sudden turn when he is approached the representative of a mysterious sheikh with a plan to introduce salmon into the rivers of Yemen, he dismisses the proposal out of hand as a scientific impossibility.

Unfortunately, the project has captured the imagination of some senior British politicians (or perhaps it is the millions of pounds that the sheikh is willing to pour into the project) and Fred is forced to either resign immediately or begin work on a project sure to destroy his career. Finding no support from his career-focused wife (who is on an extended assignment in Geneva), Fred buckles under to the pressure from the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications and embarks on transplanting 10,000 cold-water fish into the desert conditions of Yemen and the Wadi Aleyn. What he hadn’t expected was to find was himself in the process.

Paul Torday’s debut novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the absurdist tale of a downtrodden Everyman finding his voice. Using Dr. Jones’ diaries as the framework, Torday has created a novel from memos, letters, emails, press releases, Parliamentary interview transcripts, newspaper articles, extracts from an unpublished novel and questions asked on the floor of the British House of Parliament. Altogether these pieces slowly coalesce into a picture of bureaucratic incompetence and political maneuvering, a farce worthy of Monty Python.

Through deft handling and shifting viewpoints, Torday’s characters are well-rounded and almost leap off the page. Through their words and actions, as well as some well-placed barbs, Torday is able to share his views of politics without appearing to preach. His attention to detail ensure that, with time, even characters who initially appear wooden exhibit unexpected depths and demand the reader’s empathy.

It is in Fred’s development that the underlying message of hope is found. Fred is in a passionless marriage, under the thumb of a domineering wife and pompously stuffy when it comes to science. Slowly through his work he comes to understand the meaning behind the sheikh’s words at their first meeting and why he so passionately believes that salmon fishing can bring peace to his country: “Without faith, there is no hope. Without faith, there is no love.”

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen quietly adds to understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. Its message of the “importance of innocent belief: not the angry denial of other people’s belief”, wrapped as it is in farcical comedy, is sure to go down for many without them ever understanding the significance. Hopefully a seed will take root, and perhaps someday, flower.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0151012763
ISBN13: 9780151012763

352 Pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: April 2, 2007


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