EATING THE FLOWERS OF PARADISE by Kevin Rushby

EATING THE FLOWERS OF PARADISE

One Man's Journey Through Ethiopia and Yemen
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A superior travel narrative of the qat trail, its history and strange quirks, and very strange characters, from newcomer Rushby. Qat is a brilliant green leaf that can be seen “flashing like a broken traffic light” in mouths from northeast Africa to the Arabian Peninsula (and many points beyond, where citizens from these lands have settled). Its effects are highly individualized, and its reputation is not agreed upon: “legal in Britain, banned in the USA, celebrated in Yemen, vilified in Saudi Arabia.” But there is no disputing its pivotal role in the poetry, music, architecture, and family relations of Ethiopia and Yemen, not to mention in television schedules, road-building, and economic status. Rushby engrossingly outlines all of these effects. He had been familiar with the drug for a number of years before he decided to follow the qat route from Harrar overland to Djibouti, across the Red Sea to the coffee port of Mokha, then into the hills of the two Yemens, before anchoring in San’a. It was far from a comfortable journey, but Rushby makes light humor of its tribulations and brings an enormous brio to his subject. His travels are not just in pursuit of the history and culture of qat, for he quickly learns that the pleasure of the plant is in the companionship of using it. He’s a humble pilgrim and a shrewd witness, open to the tales and legends (some of the shaggy variety and some fantastic) told by cabbies and goldsmiths, fakirs and foreign legionnaires and fellow travelers. There is a polish to his descriptions of landscape, thoroughness to his political geographies and social observations, and savvy to his handling of dicey situations with authorities. Like its subject, Rushby’s book can loosen one’s mooring to the everyday world, conveying the reader to darkened rooms high above ancient, exotic cities.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-21794-3
Page count: 322pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999




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