…but I feel like I have. That’s how good a job Jennifer Steil did introducing me to the country in her book, “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky.”
Her writing is masterful, and intoxicating. As she reveled in the sights, tastes, and sounds of the country during her one-year stay there, my senses lit up. As she lamented the role and status of women, my sense of justice was inflamed. As she fought to adjust to working in a non-U.S. (a VERY non-U.S.) environment, I felt her frustration. As she fell in love with the country, I started to develop an infatuation from afar. As she explained the countries political issues, I started to worry.
I have written before about how reading news stories about places I’ve been to affect me differently (more deeply) than stories about places I have yet to see. And, for the most part, that’s true. But indeed, there are some places I haven’t physically visited, that I still feel a kinship with: these are the places I have visited in books.
I read Steil’s book in the fall of 2011. And, since then, Yemen has been reported on regularly. I am not sure if this has always been true, and if I just glazed over these news stories prior to my completion of the book, or if Yemen’s dubious celebrity was a new thing. My sense is it’s the latter.
I used to take a deep breath before clicking on an article about Yemen; it was rarely good news. The reports were about accounts of human rights abuses, poverty, and a country moving decidedly in the wrong direction. If it weren’t for Steil’s book, I wouldn’t have really bothered reading. There is enough depressing news in the world — why does it matter about what is happening in a tiny corner of the Arabic Peninsula?
It mattered to me then because Steil made me care. That, quintessentially, is the power of books. I cared about the people of Yemen, even though I have never been there because I met them through a book. I cared about the future of Yemen even though it is uncorrelated with my future, because I started to hope for a brighter future while reading a book.
While I will likely never visit Yemen, I did the next best thing by watching the quiet and quirky film, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”.
While this movie only skims the surface of the issues of corruption and violence that Steil explores, it did a wonderful job of satisfying my curiosity about what the country looks and sounds like.
I’ve never been to Yemen…and it has been devastating to watch the country fall apart, and its people become exposed to war and starvation. I have never been to Yemen, but from the comfort and safety of my home my spirit sinks with disappointment as I follow its developments. I sincerely hope that the proposed cease fire takes effect, and that aid starts to reach the starving population quickly.