Photo Book of the Unpronounceable Country

Guidebook Digression

I spend a lot of time trying to explain to publishers and P.R. people that A Traveler’s Library rarely writes about guidebooks. Instead, we prefer books of many genres that inspire or enhance travel–books that are not necessarily found in the travel section.

However today and for the next week or so, I digress.  Recently five books came my way that are closer to “guidebook” in definition than the books we usually discuss. All have a organizational scheme that is neither fiction nor strictly speaking memoir. Most deny being guidebooks, but could be used as a guide. Today we travel to the MidEast, and then we’ll be going to the Amazon, Istanbul, Europe in general and London. I hope you’ll find something of use for your traveler’s library.

Destination: Qatar

Book: Qatar: Sand, Sea and Sky (New February 2012), by Diana K. Untermeyer, with photography by Henry Dallal

So far, no one has solved the mystery of how English-speakers should pronounce the name of this country. “Q” going out into the world without it’s “u” gets us in such a state that we panic. Slate gave it a try back in 2002, and came up with a cross between cutter and qutter.

Now listen up. NPR gives us a sound bite–actually several, just to confuse the issue.

Now that that is settled–or isn’t, but who cares?–you need to know that Qatar: Sand, Sea and Sky, a glossy coffeetable book packed with photographs, is not a disinterested guide book.  In fact, a long list of sponsors, including the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage of Doha, the capitol, and various commercial interests like Qatar Airways and Exxon Mobil fills an entire page.  The author, Diana Untermeyer, was wife of the American ambassador, and while she genuinely enjoyed the country, you don’t really expect a former ambassador’s wife to speak ill of the host.

Doha, Qatar
Souk Waqif Market, Doha, Qatar

Nevertheless, readers will expand their knowledge of the mid-East by learning about this tiny (smaller than Connecticut), fabulously wealthy, moderate Gulf country.  You may want to balance the picture with a book not sponsored by what amounts to the local Chamber of Commerce.  If so, a bibliography lists a good number of resources.

From an estimated population of 27,000 in 1908, the country has grown to 1,696,563 in 2010, largely due to the development of oil resources in the 1950’s.  The most interesting thing about that growth is how much of it reflects foreign workers. The population consists of 3.46 men to one woman. Fewer than 20% of the people living in Qatar are natives of the country.  This presents some real challenges in protecting the traditional culture.

Doha, Qatar
Doha, capital of Qatar

One gets the impression that Qatar is more closely-held corporation than political entity, although elections are scheduled in 2013. The author says,

At this point in Qatar’s development, the links between industry, finance and governance are tight; without this powerful and consistent leadership, Qatar might not have the economic might or the social will to accomplish its ambitious goals.

Why is this miniscule state important to the world?

  • The Arab TV network Al Jazeera comes from Qatar, which has more freedom of the press than most Gulf states.
  • The 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar.
  • The country provides free education through college for all–including women.  Partnerships with American and British colleges and universities help them meet their goals.
  • Unlike in neighboring Saudi, women can vote and drive cars.
  • The built a modern airfield which is leased to the United States and became the military HQ for America in the Mid East.
  • The country contains 15% of the world’s known gas reserves.
Falcon in the desert
Falcon in the desert

What Tourists might want to know:

  • Driving is unsafe because of wild driving and until recently, lax traffic enforcement.
  • The National Day is December 18.
  • Men and women entertain separately.
  • In Doha, the capitol, the corniche (seaside road) features stunning modern architecture and public art as well as gardens nurtured out of the desert.
  • Sites to visit include an Islamic Museum of Art designed by I. M. Pei
  • The Qatar Philharmonic
  • Katara, a cultural village
  • The desert–the main part of the country, where the people of Qatar go for recreation.

The sea–you can sail on a restored dhow, the traditional fishing vessel

Dhows in Doha bay
Dhows in Doha bay

The narrative of Qatar: Sand Sea and Sky barely escapes crossing the line from enthusiasm to propaganda.  The photographer, who captures fascinating and colorful images, is not well served by the production of the book which over-enlarges some photographs so that they become blurry. Although the subjects of the photographs are inevitably intriguing, the way the descriptions are arranged is confusing.  With so many unfamiliar subjects (people, crafts, buildings), I would like to have clearer captions.

All in all, I would not advise shelling out the asking price of $64.95 for Qatar: Sand, Sea and Sky. But if you want to learn more about the countries of the Gulf region, you might hope that your public library has a copy.

Disclaimers: The book was provided to me by the publisher for review.  The photos used here come from and are used under a Creative Commons license. You can click on a photo to learn more about the photographer.  Links to Qatar: Sand Sea and Sky allow you to easily make a purchase from Amazon, and although it costs you no more, A Traveler’s Library appreciates your support when you order through these links.

The only mid-Eastern country I have been able to visit was Israel. That was a wonderful experience, and I would love to repeat it in Arab countries. Have you traveled to the mid East? What country would be tops on your list?


About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

15 thoughts on “Photo Book of the Unpronounceable Country

    1. Hi Bob: You’re not breaking the rules by posting a link. If you posted more than one you might get your post pulled, and I can always come by and edit out commercial links, but yours is one that is valuable to me and to the readers, so THANK YOU! I love sharing.

  1. I’ve been to Doha three times in the past two years and found it to be a rapidly sprawling city in search of a soul. So much of the recent –i.e. past 10-15 years– construction is certainly modern but typically sterile. Even the Souq is mostly fake, rebuilt a few years ago and made to look ‘authentic’. And getting a drink can be a chore.

    It is warm. Hot actually. And the Museum of Islamic Art is one of the most impressive modern structures I’ve ever seen.

    1. Bob: Thanks for the first hand report on Doha. I had read elsewhere that the souk is a it of a fake. I’m dubious about visiting places where the main attractions are luxury hotels and luxury shopping centers (besides fake souks) On the other hand, I think I’d enjoy the ethnic village, and visits to the interior.

  2. I don’t want to spoil the NPR clip for readers who might not have clicked through yet, but that “cameo” in the pronunciation list was hilarious! Thanks for sharing!

    One of my friends spends a few months in Doha each year working on the Doha Tribeca Film Festival and thankfully, the company provides drivers so she hasn’t had to take her life in her own hands on the road. I’ll have to ask her about her experiences with that!

    1. Casey: I’m trying to picture our friend film-guru Jane Boursaw in Doha being chauffered around for that film festival. Out of her comfort zone?

  3. I’ve been fascinated recently by stories I’ve read/watched about Qatar. Clearly, this book underlines the fact that there’s a reason to visit.

  4. Qatar is also bidding for the 2020 Olympics (and is one of only two countries that have maroon in their flag). I have only managed to visit UAE which seemed to me to be like a Carnivale version of the Middle East to me. I suspect that a book sponsored by the state airline and the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage is hardly likely to be anything other than a ringing endorsement for the featured country.

  5. I was in Qatar for a day while waiting for a plane. Doha looked very futuristic and cool. However, it was so hot, I stumbled into a hair dresser just to get out of the heat. Best hair cut I ever had!

  6. I am on a mission to find travel blogs for my newly retired parents as they are starting to plan trips they want to take. I’ll definitely be putting this blog atop the list. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the honest reviews you provide as well. Have you written about your trip to Israel? If so, where can I find it? I’m sure they’d love to read it as that’s one of their top destinations.

    1. Richard: I have removed the links to the blog and the comment Luv with your comment, because they seem to be blatant advertising.
      However I wanted to reply to the question about Israel. For some reason I have not written about our trip to Israel, even though it was so long ago. Perhaps I should dig up the old non-digital photos and tell about our experiences there.

      1. No problem with removing the link. I’ll be honest, I found your blog on a CommentLuv list. So while my niche and your niche aren’t in any way the same, I still like to leave legitimate comments. Anyway, yeah definitely post those and when you do, feel free to leave a comment on my blog. I installed CommentLuv a couple weeks ago. I’ll definitely pass it along to my parents when you do. Thanks.

        P.S.- A quick plugin recommendation I just learned about- ReplyMe. It sends an email to the person who commented when you reply letting them know that you did. It’s a great way to keep a conversation going and create more return traffic to your blog.

        1. Richard: Rather than send people an automated e-mail to let them know I have replied to a comment, I prefer to have them opt-in to the comment section or to replies to their comments. I know I get far too many e-mails, and don’t want to pile on anybody else’s blog.

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