The W&Y believes that to understand a country it’s not enough just to read the factual reports about it, or hopefully visit the place, you must also read fiction about it.
For example, to better understand the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s – required reading is Nobel Prize winning Ivo Andric’s ‘The Bridge over the Drina’. His novel may begin in the 16th century and end in 1914, but it builds a foundation for understanding the horrors of the 1990’s which news reporting cannot provide.
Paul E. Hardisty’s debut novel ‘The Abrupt Physics of Dying’ won’t make the Nobel list, but, for a fast paced action thriller, it is beautifully written, a real page turner, and suggests a serious knowledge of the culture and tribal system in Yemen.
It deals with a Yemen at war with itself, a troubled oil worker who is kidnapped, and a corrupt oil company prepared to sacrifice children for profit.
The story rockets along, twisting and turning amid clouds of dust from the Yemeni deserts, pausing occasionally to put aside the AK 47s and take tea amid the generosity of an Islamic culture Hardisty clearly understands and admires.
His descriptions of landscape are mostly excellent, drawing you into the hard land of Yemen, but occasionally too detailed for this reader to understand, for example “Looking down from the scarp, the land fell away into a broad graben dissected by the root ends of dozens of smaller wadis’.
The distraction of not knowing various topographical terms are quickly forgotten as the plot moves on. The action takes place amid the civil war in the early 90’s but could have been set in the current tragedy and part of the quality of the book is that it captures the background to both.
Hardisty is a Canadian by birth but has been around the globe a few times in countries tailor made to produce a book which can take you to places most of us do not go; where power comes from the barrel of a gun, honour is a life and death matter, and politics is truly tribal.
‘The Abrupt Physics of Dying’ is published by Orenda Books.
Paul E. Hardisty’s article about Yemen for the W&Y can be found in the Archive for April.