A British woman who spent much of her childhood in Abu Dhabi returns to examine the sociological and economic character of the United Arab Emirates and to unearth the truth about her brother’s rushed departure from the UAE as a young adult.
For most Westerners, the Middle East remains an overwhelmingly enigmatic culture about which finding authentic yet accessible insights can be challenging. Unlike recent portraits of Abu Dhabi, including Christopher M. Davidson’s Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond (2009), Tatchell (The Poet of Baghdad, 2008, etc.) excavates the region's gritty history from the perspective of a foreigner who goes back to study its glimmering present and ambitious future. Displaying an impressive breadth of research into the region's centuries-old tribal lineage, rocky political evolution and steep recent economic trajectory as a destination for opulent tourism and high culture, the author also takes readers on her largely futile quest for access to archives of past local media coverage. However, Tatchell’s analysis of UAE society eclipses the deeper roots of the personal impetus driving her investigations. Consequently, the revelatory information at the end of the book about her brother's swift exit from the country years earlier proves anticlimactic. Key nuggets of enlightening dialogue by Emiraties are far more trenchant—i.e., “We are a tiny country. We have a tiny army. We can never be the biggest. That is why we will take power in another way.”
A commendable survey of Abu Dhabi’s origins, intricacies, achievements and vision, which ultimately distracts from Tatchell’s investigative path toward intimate family truths.