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On the Salmon (Paper) Trail May 29, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.
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I can think of at least three good reasons why Paul Torday’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is well worth reading.

First, there’s the storytelling approach. The premise of the book involves a seemingly whimsical project to introduce salmon fishing to a wadi in the Yemen. To tell this tale, Torday presents the events not through the lens of straightforward narrative, but rather in the guise of the correspondences and documents which chronicle the project’s progress. On balance, it is an interesting method to get readers acquainted with the book’s dramatis personae and emotionally involved in their undertakings (in this case, the Yemeni Salmon Fishing Project). Granted, the novelty wears off soon enough, especially later in the book when Torday lapses into disguised narrative that detracts from the underlying mechanism and begins to write all characters with practically the same “voice”. Yet it is an entertaining window into the author’s vision, and one that easily draws readers in from beginning to end.

Second, it’s intelligent satire and socio-political commentary. In many ways, the purported Yemeni Salmon Project is a device allowing Torday to present his observations about modern day life, political bureaucracy, and the worldwide battle against terrorism. In this regard, the insights communicated are often humorous and the veiled criticisms rather biting. Even if the book were not intended to be a work of satire, it may as well be one.

Third, there is an inspiring message of faith and hope that underlies the entire story. This, above all else, should be the reason anyone should read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. In fact, this message is communicated early on in the story — when the protagonist becomes sold on the absurd idea of bringing salmon fishing to the Yemeni desert — but it manages to hook the reader all the way to the end. To some degree this does mean that the bulk of the book is really just an exercise to see how events unfold, and in many ways the book ends somewhat abruptly, even if in the right place. Notwithstanding this, to appreciate the message that Torday attempts to convey and seeing it reinforced all the way through to the book’s conclusion makes for a thoroughly rewarding reading experience.

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