Yemen: Jewel of Arabia
by Charles and Patricia Aithie (with an introduction by Mark Marshall CMG), Stacey International, 2009. Revised paperback edition. Pp. xix 212. Maps. Illus. Bibliog. Index. Chronology. $16. 95. ISBN 978-1-905-299935.
This book was first published in hardback in 2001, with the support of the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board, and reviewed in this Journal that same year. Since then other illustrated books on Yemen have been published but none have really matched the superb standard of photography in this new paperback edition. From the appealing image on the cover of a young Yemeni girl riding a donkey, to the many views of buildings and scenery, the reader is lost in admiration for a country that is quite different from anywhere else in the world.
Although the format of the paperback means that it has had to be reduced in size, the photographs still retain their quality and interest. The font used for the text is an improvement on the rather heavy text of the original. There is now less wasted space in the design, and the new leaner layout is most attractive. The content is the same as before, covering the whole of the country, but with some new information about Soqotra under the chapter heading: ‘Islands of Yemen’. Since the original publication of the book, Charles Aithie has been able to travel all over Soqotra with his camera and amass an impressive photographic archive. He is also a geologist by training, so it is not surprising that he sees Yemen through its rocks, mountains and former volcanoes.
It is a pity that space does not allow for more of his collection of photographs to be included, but as always with a travel book of this kind, there has to be a balance between all the areas covered in the body of the text. Aden is not the most photogenic part of Yemen, and thankfully in the new edition the picture of that port (which might be anywhere in the Middle East) has been much reduced in size. It is a little irritating to be reading about Aden and then to turn over the page and find a study of the termite mounds found elsewhere in Yemen. The chronology has been updated and records the flooding and devastation in Hadhramaut and Mahra caused by heavy tropical storms in 2008. Maps are always a problem in any publication, and although they have been improved, it is a little disconcerting to follow a road which apparently leads nowhere!