Yemen: Jewel of Arabia

Yemen: Jewel of Arabia

by Charles & Patricia Aithie, with an introduction by Mark Marshall, CMG

Stacey International (128 Kensington Church Street, London W8 4BH), 2001. Pp. 215. 500 colour photographs and 16 maps. Index. Bibliog. Hb. £35. ISBN 1 900988 151.

Lavish colour publications have been produced for all other countries in Arabia; nowYemen, more photogenic than most of them, has received the same treatment. This book is truly a pictorial gem. Some of the places and scenes will be familiar from other publications about Yemen, many of which are listed in the bibliography, but few, if any, can match the quality of the photographs in Yemen: Jewel of Arabia. Other books have treated only one aspect or one area of Yemen, but during their extensive travels Charles and Patricia Aithie have taken pictures of people and places which display the many different characteristics of the country, its customs and way of life.

The book is beautifully produced with an introduction by Mark Marshall, a former British Ambassador to Yemen. He provides a brief historical resume for the general reader, which is followed by a chronology stretching from 5000 BC to the present day - the final entry reading: ‘2000 Northern border agreed with Saudi Arabia’. The book is divided into three sections entided ‘The Highlands’, ‘The Tihama’ and ‘The Hadramaut, the South Coast and Aden’. Block captions complement and elucidate the photographs and there are 16 maps distributed throughout the text, which are particularly useffil in illustrating aspects of the country such as communications, markets, geology and land use.

The text contains many useful facts for the non-Yemeni reader, but it does not pretend to be an academic treatise. The flora and fauna are discussed in some detail, and a whole page is devoted to termites. But there are no pictures of Soqotra, which is included with the section on Aden. Although the book is not about modern industry and commerce, the photographs ofAden,Yemen’s economic capital, are well chosen. The writing is condensed to give weight to the illustrations which are really what carry the publication; for a work of this kind precludes discussion of social, political or economic issues, such as the shortage of water. Instead, the reader is transported into the Garden of Eden and the book is a delight for the armchair visitor to Yemen. Although it does not pretend to be a guide-book, anyone intending to travel to Yemen would be well advised to make ajourney through its pages.

There are a few quibbles to be mentioned, particularly with some transliteration of the Arabic. There is also confusion over the name of Crown Prince, later Imam, Mohammed al-Badr, who on one line in the chronology is referred to as Prince Badr, and two lines further on as Imam Mohammed al-Bada (sic); Wadi Tiban in Lahej is captioned ‘Wadi Turban’; some photographs are repeated without captions: having read the section on Sana’a, it is a little disconcerting to encounter a fine yet uncaptioned picture of Bab al-Yemen when one has already moved north and crossed the Shaharah bridge! However, such minor blemishes do not detract from the excellence of the photography and the quality of its reproduction in this book.

Julian Paxton

Charles & Patricia Aithie