Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

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Cannonball Read IV: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

By faquin | Book Reviews | October 30, 2012 | Comments ()


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?

For more of faquin’s reviews, check out her blog,

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • marya

    I've been thinking about renting the movie - but torn because I always like to read the book first. Just on principle. But it sounds like I could skip the book in this instance.

    Does the book address the environmental implications of doing something like this? Not to get all knee-jerk tree hugger, about it, but it was the first thing I thought when I heard the premise. Creating a river where there was desert has to have a pretty big impact on the surrounding area...right?

  • lefaquin

    As far as environmental implications go, the characters talk about it a little, mostly in passing, or in such detail that it's almost painful. To summarize, they build the salmon run in a wadi - a large gorge that floods during the rainy season. The area is completely dry for a large chunk of the year, but when the rains come, it's much like monsoon season (due to Yemen's proximity to the Indian Ocean) and a LOT of rain comes all at once.
    Most of the environmental concerns come in the form of letters from enraged Englishmen and Scotsmen who don't want salmon taken from their rivers - a very good point - and the project ends up using salmon raised in captivity from a farm.

  • Guest

    Yeah, pass. The whole premise ... irritates me.

  • BWeaves

    This is an epistolary novel. Some are great (Dracula), pretty good (The Moonstone), (Sorcery and Cecelia), and some are awful (Frankenstein). It's nice to know I can skip this one. Thanks.

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