A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World's Richest City

A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World's Richest City

by Jo Tatchell
     
 

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Tatchell takes us on a tour of the city with an outlook that’s part native, part critic, part wide-eyed traveler. The result is a truly original collage of perspectives and images, from a regal expatriate whose husband was one of the first Brits to settle in Abu Dhabi to young Emirati artists celebrating their newfound freedom of expression. A compelling

Overview


Tatchell takes us on a tour of the city with an outlook that’s part native, part critic, part wide-eyed traveler. The result is a truly original collage of perspectives and images, from a regal expatriate whose husband was one of the first Brits to settle in Abu Dhabi to young Emirati artists celebrating their newfound freedom of expression. A compelling piece of history told with an intimate narrative voice, A Diamond in the Desert is an eye-opening and often haunting perspective on just how much this fascinating city has changed—and, for better or for worse, how much it has stayed the same.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A glittering emblem of global modernity carries a tinge of tribal clannishness and xenophobia in this revealing travelogue through the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Tatchell (The Poet of Baghdad), an English journalist who spent her youth in Abu Dhabi, compares the present city, with its skyscrapers, lavish malls, and Guggenheim branch, to the bedouin past it has all but obliterated. She finds that Abu Dhabi's 420,000 official citizens, with an average net worth of million in oil wealth, have traded their camels and tents for SUVs, condos, and glitzy, indolent jet-setting; surrounding them is a sea of exploited foreign guest workers, 80% of the population, who build and run the city while living in a stateless limbo. (There are secrets lurking behind the shopping and partying, she finds during a Kafkaesque quest to locate the national newspaper archive.) The author's teeming, sharply etched portrait introduces readers to tycoons, a wastrel playboy with a pet panther, a bored housewife trying to score bootleg liquor, avant-garde artists, nostalgic British expats, and a Lithuanian prostitute. Tatchell's keen powers of observation and personal connections enable her to convey the hidden reality of this mirage-like city. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Tatchell excavates the region’s gritty history from the perspective of a foreigner who goes back to study its glimmering present and ambitious future…[displays] an impressive breadth of research into the region’s centuries-old tribal lineage, rocky political evolution and steep recent economic trajectory as a destination for opulent tourism and high culture…a commendable survey of Abu Dhabi’s origins, intricacies, achievements and vision.”—Kirkus

“[A] revealing travelogue…A teeming, sharply etched portrait…Tatchell’s keen powers of observation and personal connections enable her to convey the hidden reality of this mirage-like city.”—Publishers Weekly

“Tatchell weaves a bit of danger in this part-memoir, part-travelogue, part-cultural study. . .an alluring read. If you’re curious about Middle Eastern culture or if you want an inside peek at an oil-rich economy, you’ll want this book.”—Terri Schlichenmeyer, Bluffton Today (S.C.)

A Diamond in the Desert is a welcome addition to the short list of books on Abu Dhabi…[tells] the fascinating story of how Abu Dhabi reached the current crossroad. Engagingly written and sympathetic to [its] subjects.”—Eugene Rogan, The Guardian

“This is a place we need to know more about, and Tatchell here provides a small, well-informed and flavorsome guide to an El Dorado of the dunes…hers is the best thing I’ve read on the Gulf Coast boom to date. Part history, part reporting, part autobiography, it leaves you feeling you have come to grips with the realities of a land steeped in fable. The contradictions of its Islamic culture emerge starkly…vivid yet balanced.”—George Walden, Bloomberg News

“Offers acute insights on the identity crisis gripping the Emiratis…Tatchell pieces together Abu Dhabi’s rotten underbelly from a kaleidoscope of disquieting impressions.”—Rachel Aspden, The Telegraph

“Tatchell explores the different faces of this shimmering prism of a city through the man different eyes of its inhabitants. She is unsentimental and writes very well, with a keen journalistic eye for detail and drama. She brings alive the weird collision of the disparate worlds of sheikhs, expats and Indian immigrants with stories of decadence and depravity. This is an unusually engaging book that makes a compelling read.”—Clover Stroud, The Sunday Telegraph

“Part history, part autobiography and part travel book, A Diamond in the Desert assesses modern Abu Dhabi through the eyes of both locals and foreigners. Tatchell retains an overflowing fondness for the country of her childhood and tries as best she can to recount even some of the less palatable elements of society in a non-judgmental way.”—Nathalie Thomas, The Scotsman

Library Journal
British author Tatchell (The Poet of Baghdad: A True Story of Love and Defiance) shares her quest to Abu Dhabi to see how much it has changed since she lived there for a time as a child. The capital of the United Arab Emirates and the richest city in the world, Abu Dhabi is characterized by the fine line between modernity and traditional Muslim desert culture, as Tatchell soon finds as she travels around looking for the National Archives. She talks to a wide range of people from expatriates to Emirate nationals to businesspeople, family friends, and emerging artists, seeking their views on the changes that have taken place in the last 40 years. Tatchell finds both the good and the bad, but her criticism occasionally leaves the reader wondering if perhaps she expects too much of this city struggling to find its place in a global world. VERDICT Tatchell's journey toward making sense of the city's rapid transformation and her own family history will appeal to general readers and fans of self-discovery memoirs.—Melissa Aho, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis
Kirkus Reviews

A British woman who spent much of her childhood in Abu Dhabi returns to examine the sociological and economic character of the United Arab Emirates and to unearth the truth about her brother's rushed departure from the UAE as a young adult.

For most Westerners, the Middle East remains an overwhelmingly enigmatic culture about which finding authentic yet accessible insights can be challenging. Unlike recent portraits of Abu Dhabi, including Christopher M. Davidson's Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond (2009), Tatchell (The Poet ofBaghdad, 2008, etc.) excavates the region's gritty history from the perspective of a foreigner who goes back to study its glimmering present and ambitious future. Displaying an impressive breadth of research into the region's centuries-old tribal lineage, rocky political evolution and steep recent economic trajectory as a destination for opulent tourism and high culture, the author also takes readers on her largely futile quest for access to archives of past local media coverage.However, Tatchell's analysis of UAE society eclipses the deeper roots of the personal impetus driving her investigations. Consequently, the revelatory information at the end of the book about her brother's swift exit from the country years earlier proves anticlimactic. Key nuggets of enlightening dialogue by Emiraties are far more trenchant—i.e., "We are a tiny country. We have a tiny army. We can never be the biggest. That is why we will take power in another way."

A commendable survey of Abu Dhabi's origins, intricacies, achievements and vision, which ultimately distracts from Tatchell's investigative path toward intimate family truths.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802170798
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
10/05/2010
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
8.46(w) x 11.80(h) x 0.76(d)

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