22. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
Presented as a collection of official documents, interviews, emails, and the like, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (now a movie of the same name) is an ambitious book. The author attempts to tell the story of a British fisheries scientist tasked with building a salmon run in Yemen while pondering the nature of god and a lot of other existential type questions. The book definitely fell short in the latter respect, and I feel like the soul searching questions were definitely to the detriment of what could have been a pretty engaging story. For me, this was an OK book – I read it quickly and enjoyed doing so, but in the four or five days since I’ve finished, I’ve mostly forgotten about the characters.
Fred, the fish scientist in question (I had to look up his name again) is put in charge of a project to bring salmon to Yemen so that the project’s financial backer, a Yemeni sheikh, can introduce the peaceful and calming sport of salmon fishing to the Yemeni people. The project is originally a small, private endeavor that quickly gets out of hand with government involvement, lots of press inquiries, and the presence of the British Prime Minister himself. From the get go, the project is shown to be a pretty ludicrous undertaking, but one that the sheikh believes to be wholly important to the future of Yemen.
It is through the sheikh and his faith in the project that the author brings up questions of faith, spirituality, and lots of religious talk. I think I see where Torday was trying to come from, but I don’t think that the sheikh’s character was well developed enough to support the serious revelations that Fred kept taking from him. I think that the concept of a ridiculous project changing a staid scientist’s life is a potentially interesting idea, but I wasn’t invested enough in the characters to believe in, or even care about, the dramatic personality changes that Torday inserted into the story.
Here, I think that the device of using documents and journal entries to tell the story fell flat. This approach allowed the reader to see different points of view, which was certainly welcome in the earlier chapters, which were limited by Fred’s mostly boring thoughts. However, reading interviews and letters about events that happened didn’t allow for the type of heavy character development that the book needed to support the heavier existential material that came later. If you see the book lying around – in a beach house, or while you’re on vacation, and have somewhat limited reading options, I would say go for it. It’s enjoyable, a quick beach read type of book, but otherwise, I would recommend skipping this book. The movie might be better, but I’m not really sure that I care enough to find out?