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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Father of the Gazelle...,, 22 Dec. 2010
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT: Behind the Scenes in the World's Richest City (Hardcover)
Abu Dhabi means "father of the gazelle," and in this most timely work, Jo Tatchell, a British journalist, explains the legendary origins of the name for this increasingly important global city. The name dates from 1762, when members of the Al Bu Falah family were hunting, pursuing a gazelle that walked through the shallow waters of the Gulf to the island that would be so named. Thirty-one years later, they made the island their permanent home. For sure, they wouldn't recognize it today!

Tatchell is no "parachute journalist," writing standard, pre-packaged vignettes that are so often required by "editorial concerns" back home. She spent a good portion of her youth in Abu Dhabi, arriving in 1974, at the age of three, with her parents. This was only three years since the emirate gained its independence from Britain, and joined seven other emirates in what had been called the Trucial Coast to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Her father was a Director of the Spinneys supermarket chain; unlike many other expatriates, he understood the value of regular "tea drinking" with his hosts, and therefore was frequently in attendance at the majlis (roughly, an "open house" held by the government, where much business was actually conducted). She left for boarding school in the early `80's, but would make periodic visits to her family. This book is a result of her extended visit in 2008 to observe the Emirate's transformation after four decades.

Her "roots" in Abu Dhabi opened many doors, and in several cases, you sensed that the conversations, particularly with the native Abu Dhabians, were open and frank. Overall, she does a good job of giving the reader a true "feel" for the country by interspersing her personal interactions during her return visit with chapters outlining the overall historical developments in the area. She commences with an incisive vignette involving Edward Henderson delivering a trunk full of cash, which represented the oil royalties, to Abu Dhabi's ruler, Sheikh Shakhbut, at his desert encampment, in 1965. In another, she relates her visit to Edward's widow, "la grande dame," Jocelyn, who was still living in A.D., under the auspice of the ruling family, the al Nayhan's, when the author visited in 2008. Tatchell devotes part of a chapter to Wilfred Thesiger, most famous for his crossing of the Empty Quarter in 1947, as chronicled in Arabian Sands (Penguin Classics), and who called A.D. "the final disillusionment." Tatchell's assessment of Thesiger resonated with me: Thesiger was a romantic, who crossed the Empty Quarter in the winter cool, and bemoaned the passing of the comradeship (and perhaps more) of the old times, but the rationale choice would always have been to forego the heat, hardship, hunger and thirst of the hard-scrabble life of the desert and accept the comforts of those who had created the modern world by mastering technology, sometimes sardonically referred to as "the velvet rut."

But the book is far more than expat tales. There are numerous Abu Dhabians whom she interviews, some she has known over many years, such as Safwan, who takes her on a trip to the much changed desert. She describes her meeting with Abdullah Masaood, who her father used to work for as an adviser. He "has it all" now, in terms of material success, but says that he was much happier in his youth, with his place secure in the love of family. She concludes her visit by interviewing Abdulla Al Amri, who introduces the concept of "Middle Islam" to her; a much more tolerant brand than is espoused by some of the UAE's neighbors, and suggests that their efforts may result in a new Islamic "golden age."

But all is not upbeat. She reports on the "underbelly" of life in A.D., and all too often the terrible ennui of the rich who have it all, but don't know what to do with it. Her comparison with Michael Jackson was spot-on. Normally she makes appropriate cultural comparison, fairly raising Western problems: "People stay silent around the rich. There are, of course, intermittent tales of whoring and drugs, but isn't that what the unbound and wealthy anywhere do? The excesses of the hedge-fund contingent and Russian oligarchs are something to behold..." And the reported reason why her brother Bill permanently left is horrifying, and almost certainly true. Coupled with another very dark vignette, it would seem that this book is bound to be banned in the country it is about, all too sadly so.

"Frumpy" Abu Dhabi. The "step-child" of far more glitzy Dubai, yet it was the more conservative values of A.D., and vaster sums of money that recently rescued Dubai with a $10 billion bailout, which may very well have announced A.D.'s new preeminence. Along with its cultural efforts in bringing branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim to the country, and the recognition by its Prime Minister that a melding of cultural values is essential for this small country's survival.

When Tatchell surveyed "the cultural scene" it was telling that she interviewed no fellow writers. In surveying Amazon, very little, aside from the standard "guide books" has been written about Abu Dhabi. Cultural "constraints," (sometimes known as not wanting to get the story "wrong," by offending the powerful,) seems to have inhibited the native Abu Dhabians from telling their own story. Among the Westerners, few people have been so ideally placed, both in terms of personal history and outlook, as Jo Tatchell, in rendering this much needed account. A solid 5-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on October 22, 2010)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant!, 6 Jan. 2011
By 
Uta Dammann (St. Albans, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT: Behind the Scenes in the World's Richest City (Hardcover)
I agree with every single word about this gem of a book - simply brilliant and un-put-downable.

For anyone living or working in Abu Dhabi this book should be on your required reading list, amongst the usually recommend fare.

Really well researched, with an immense fountain of personal knowledge, very good contacts, and a rare childhood of a Eurpean woman growing up in Abu Dhabi, the author writes extremely honest about a city and Emirate which she clearly loves (and so do I).
Nevertheless, there are shortcomings to the city's rapid growth and these are of course mentioned and well researched.

This is a very easy and entertaining read and you will find yourself immersed in the 'real' Abu Dhabi of yesterday very quickly.
Much has been written about the Success story which is Abu Dhabi today, very little is known about the historical Abu Dhabi, after all the recent history is not that old.
The author addresses all in a very elegant and fluid writing style which is immensely likable.

A solid and well deserved 5 *****
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5.0 out of 5 stars Diamond of The Desert, 17 April 2014
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An excellent, informative book. I got it because I have family working in Abu Dhabi and I have visited each year and became very interested in its history. It has a fascinating relatively short history. My daughter has kept this book out in Abu Dhabi and hands it out to friends and family members if they want to know more about the place. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 10 April 2014
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Excellent book,gives the reader a full insight to Abu Dhabi the history and the modern Abu Dhabi. I recently visited Abu Dhabi for the first time I wish I had read this book first.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read., 23 Mar. 2014
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This book answers many questions about the history and its effects on society in Abu Dhabi, told in an informal, yet informed way.
It is written from a personal perspective and covers many interesting issues.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 20 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT: Behind the Scenes in the World's Richest City (Hardcover)
This was a Christmas present for someone who visits and loves Abu Dhabi.. Was very well received
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