Salmon need cool, well-oxygenated water. The temperature ideally should not exceed 18 degree Celsius. If it is too hot, the oxygen will leave the water and the fish will die. The best conditions are rivers fed by snow melt or springs.
Salmon fishing in Yemen.. hmmm.. how could that happen? Sounds absurd.
Absurd is what fisheries scientist Dr. Alfred Jones think about the idea when he is asked to become involved in a project to create a salmon river in the highlands of the Yemen. But orders from on high instruct him to change his views, and quickly, or he will lose his job. So Fred finds himself forced to commit his waking hours to fly ten thousand salmon to a desert country – and persuade them to swim upstream in Wadi Aleyn, Yemen, coincide with the torrential summer rain.
The book is written in a variety of media such as emails, diary entries, newspaper articles, interrogator’s interviews, extract from autobiographies etc. involving Fred Jones emails to his wife Mary, Harriet Chatwode-Talbot (A consultant from Fritzharris & Price – real estate consultancy and an aide to the Sheikh) letters to her fiancé Robert Matthews in Iraq, Paul Maxwell’s (Director of Communication in Prime Minister’s office) TV interviews and drafted autobiography, copies of Al-Qaeda’s email communication, TV-show scripts for Middle East’s young people etc.
The international and inter-departmental mechanism necessary to accomplish this task provide an amusing framework to the current world affairs. While the emails goes up and down the management / government chain and the idea of salmon fishing in Yemen is viewed as a savvy political move by Britain’s PM – forging good ties with Yemen and opportunity to win over 3 million angler’s vote in Britain, Paul Maxwell is determined to make this work infurtherance of the good work done by the government, and will do anything to make this happen; even if it requires Fred to make sure that the Prime Minister’s is photographed with a catch within the limited 20 minutes time slot to officiate the event.
The book examines the relationship between the west and the middle east, the soldier’s wife / fiancé constant worries for their partners out in the killing zone, the cultural divide between the west and the middle east, about the beautiful landscape of Yemen, about politics, about marriage and careers, about lessons in the life cycle of Salmon, about faith and dearth of faith.
I find the allusion of salmon fishing and eradication of class divide refreshing. In the words of the Sheikh Muhammad:
If God wills it, we will enable Salmon to swim in the waters of Wadi Aleyn. If God wills it, the summer rains will fill the wadis, and we will pump out water from the aquifer, and the salmon will run the river. And then my countrymen – sayyid, nuqqa and jazr and all classes and manner of men will stand on the banks side by side and fish for the salmon. And their nature, too will be changed. And then when talk turns to what this tribe said or that tribe did, or what to do with the Israelis or the Americans, and voices grow heated, then someone will say, “Let us arise, and go fishing.”
As he embarks on an extraordinary journey of faith, the diffident Fred discover a sense of believe in belief, and a capacity for love (even if it’s not reciprocal), and a faith in the impossible. Alfred Jones begins to question his ordered but extremely mundane existence. His last victory was a claim to fame is his latest paper, “Effects of increased Water Acidity on the Caddis Fly Larva” scientific article which is set to create a stir in the next issue of “Trout and Salmon” magazine. He has a satisfactory marriage with a very sensible, career-minded, overbearing wife. Her harsh remark towards Fred’s professions and whacky ideas will make you cringe. Then this hair-brained idea came along and reluctant though initially, he began to believe in the impossible and stir long forgotten emotion that is long buried in him.
I had belief. I did not know, or for the moment care, what exactly it was I had to believe in. I only knew that belief in something was the first step away from believing in nothing, the first step away from a world which only recognized what it could count, measure, sell or buy. The people here had that innocent power of belief: a quiet affirmation. It was the pervading presence of belief (I found in Yemen).
This is a clever book. Prise the layers of humourous writings, you will find the seriousness of discussion about life’s bigger issues. Torday is at ease with satire, scientific research, deep emotions of love, self reflection and spiritual needs. A lovely mixed-up sort of book about politics, faith, love and salmon. I am lucky to read many good books this year, including this one. Highly recommended, deserves maximum stars. If there is just one thing to take away after reading this book, it would be this:
Without faith, there is no hope. Without faith, there is no love.
What I like most about the book: A quirky idea alluding into life bigger questions. Question on stance in the Middle East conflict, about political maneuver, about faith and love and learning a thing or two about Salmon. I watch one magnificent documentary about “The great salmon run” in BBC one day and in awe of God’s creation of the ability of Salmon to swim upstream and spawn, and their smolts soon trace the directions to the oceans where they stay for the next 3 to 4 years before they swim thousand miles to come back to the original place where they first hatched. Those images stayed with me while I read the book.
What I like least about the book: None. I don’t think I am being bias. 🙂
About the writer:
Paul Torday read English Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford before embarking on a very succesful career in engineering. His work took him all over the world. More recently he has been able to take a step back from the business and has had time to write. The inspiration for the novel stemmed from Torday’s interest in both fly fishing and Middle East. He lives in Northumberland and has been a keen salmon fisherman for 15 years. Has two sons from a previous marriage and two step sons.