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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 Flickr.com 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?