“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”: space for chance

While reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday, the song that kept popping into my head as I read was John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”

Chance. Chance is mild hope. Chance is a slight possibility. Chance means making space for possibility and for hope. In his novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday plays with the idea of chance and also of belief. Throughout Torday’s novel he develops the idea that the Yemeni Sheikh longs to bring salmon fishing into his country so that it could help bring peace to his region. The idea that fishing is peaceful, relaxing, and absorbing is what draws the Sheikh to the British sport in the first place and what pushes him to bring the sport to his home country of Yemen. The belief in the possibility that this project could succeed and the hope that it could bring peace to his nation is the motivation behind the Sheikh’s seemingly endless supply of financial backing for his dream of salmon fishing in the Yemen.


I will admit that this is not the type of book that I normally read. In fact, I haven’t had a conversation with anyone about this book and no one recommended it to me. I saw a trailer for the film adapataion and I thought, as many in the novel, that the idea was absurd and that is what intrigued me enough to read this book.

In fact, the novel revolves a lot around the British government’s involvement in this salmon fishing project and specifically that the Prime Minister has his imagination piqued by the possibility of British scientists helping to make the impossible possible. Peter Maxwell, the PM’s public relations officer, uses this project and spins it in order to draw the public’s attention away from the war happening in the Middle East, and also to draw some votes. Maxwell calls it a Good News Story and shamelessly, and painfully, tries to insert himself into the project.

The idea of salmon living in the Yemen is ridiculous. In fact, the man who longs to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen realizes that it will take a miracle. Throughout the novel, the Sheikh Muhammad keeps saying and Dr. Alfred Jones keeps repeating in his diary, “Faith is the cure that heals all troubles. Without faith there is no hope and no love. Faith comes before hope, and before love.” Even Dr. Jones realizes that this project is a failure from the start, yet as he walks along the bank of the wadi in the Yemen he can’t help but note, “I believe in it, because it is impossible.” He allows the space for chance in his mind and from this belief he begins to have hope in the project.

Although not my favourite book of all time, it was entertaining. As I mentioned, the idea of Give Peace a Chance kept running through my mind as I read. I also couldn’t help but connect this story to Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

In the opening to Life of Pi, Martel writes, “If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” As I read this I think of the imagination and hope of possibility displayed in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and how that idea of hope and belief in the impossible being possible, and peace between people who seem so different being possible could become reality . . . if given a chance.

“Give Peace a Chance”: John Lennon

Work hard at living in peace with others. (Psalm 34:14)

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