by Mackintosh-Smith, Tim
Our ideas of the Arabian Peninusula have been hijacked: by images of the desert, by oil, by the Gulf War. But there is another Arabia. For the Classical geographers Yemen was a fabulous land where flying serpents guarded sacred incense groves. Medieval Arab visitors told of disappearing islands and menstruating mountains. Vita Sackville-West found Aden ‘precisely the most repulsive corner of the world’. Arguably the most fascinating but least known country in the Arab world, Yemen has a way of attracting comment that ranges from the superficial to the wildly fictitious. In Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land, Tim Mackintosh-Smith writes with an intimacy and depth of knowledge gained through over twenty years among the Yemenis. He is a travelling companion of the best sort – erudite, witty and eccentric. Crossing mountain, desert, ocean and three millennia of history, he portrays hyrax hunters and dhow skippers, a noseless regicide, and a sword-wielding tyrant with a passion for Heinz Russian salad. Yet even the ordinary Yemenis are extraordinary: their family tree goes back to Noah and is rooted in a land which, in the words of a contemporary poet, has become the dictionary of its people. Every page of this book is dashed – like the land it describes – with the marvellous.