Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reads: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I have just finished this book and well, the ending is sad (sorry, spoiler ahead). Perhaps I was hoping for a happy ending, since I was reading it at the end of 2016.

The story was about a 'crazy' idea of introducing salmon into the Wadi Aleyn in Yemen. Sheikh Muhammad, seemingly rich beyond the dreams of avarice, is a keen angler and believes that bringing salmon fishing to the Yemen would bridge the social gap in his country. He engages his real estate agent to project manage his dream, where Harriet Chetwode-Talbot takes up the project. Harriet ropes in Dr Alfred Jones, a fisheries scientist, after much convincing and governmental politics. The project goes up to the British Prime Minister's interest in having a photo op if it all works out (the "bright" and rather silly idea of Peter Maxwell, his Director of Communications). The story then charts out the planning of the project and how Dr Jones is transformed from a being faithless to learning to believe in belief. The sheikh inspires both Dr Jones and Harriet (and is pictured very much different from the movie) and seems to be all-knowing even when Dr Jones was facing marital problems and when Harriet lost her marine fiance.

The sheikh survives an assassination foiled by his gillie, Collin McPherson but the Al Qaeda was planning another assassination attempt. When finally the official day came, the weather was right and all went smoothly with most of the farmed salmon going with their instincts to swim upstream to spawn. An unexpected plug occurrence (which could have been anticipated if there was a hydrologist) in the river caused a huge wave of water to wash down the river and with it the Prime Minister, the sheikh and Colin (who was trying to save the sheikh) disappeared and was never to be found. An assassination attempt by one of the sheikh's bodyguards had occurred moments before they were swept away.

Strictly speaking, the salmon project was considered a scientific breakthrough but the tragedy which entailed had overshadowed its scientific significance and Dr Jones' reputation was ruined. He was finally able to find a low-paying job but declared he was happy with the simple life in the countryside. Harriet retreated to France to get over her fiance's death and never returned to her job in London. The romance between Dr Jones and Harriet never materialised as they both knew it wasn't meant to be.

The book itself was a good read, framed as snippets from Dr Jones' diary, book chapters from the Peter Maxwell's biography, interrogation session transcription, Harriet's letters to her MIA fiance and email correspondences. But it left me sad in the end, where no one was truly happy and one of the core characters was gone forever.

I guess the screenplay was written to please the moviegoers. In the movie, although the disaster happened, none of the main characters died and the couple ends up together. A bittersweet ending.

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