Yemen? Yes, you heard us right, Yemen. Not your usual vacation stop, but that's what's great about Reading Around the World... we don't have to worry about little annoyances like pesky government warnings telling you not to visit a place. (Seriously, it's probably not safe.) We can see all the beauty and turmoil of Yemen from the comfort of the patio or nearest beach chair! Over to the lovely and talented Nomi Eve to tell us all about Yemen and her gorgeous book, Henna House!
1. What are some of the sights that a visitor to Yemen shouldn’t miss? It's important to note that "The U.S. Dept. of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Yemen because of the high security threat level posed by the ongoing conflict and terrorist activities." But if one were to ignore travel warnings and go to Yemen (not advised!), the northern city of Sana'a is a must see for any tourist. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its distinctive towering buildings stand at the crossroads of ancient trade routes and offer breathtaking views and bustling markets. Another wonderful site is Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean. Socotra is chock full of species not seen anywhere else on earth including the distinctively shaped and named Dragon's Blood Tree. The island is part of an archipelago and is a magnet for students of biodiversity.
2. What are some popular dishes or well known staples in Yemeni cooking?
One of my favorite dishes is jachnun -- a rolled sweet dough that is baked overnight and traditionally eaten with a tomato sauce and a spicy relish. Another wonderful dish is Saltah,. Salted is a meat stew flavored with fenugreek and chili peppers, tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Most Yemeni stews are eaten with flat baked breads.
3. How has Yemen changes since the era depicted in Henna House?
Yemen has changed in many ways, but perhaps the most striking way is that today it is one country, Yemen, but in the era of Henna House it was divided two. The north was a Muslim Caliphate ruled by an Imam and called The Kingdom of North Yemen, the south was a British Protectorate, governed by England. Also, in the era of Henna House, Yemen had a Jewish community. Today there are almost no Jews living there.
4. Why did you choose to write about Yemen and the evacuation of the Jewish people?
While I myself am not Yemenite, I have a dear relative who is. Her stories intrigued me, and as I started to research early 20th Century Yemen, I grew more and more fascinated. Soon I realized that I had to write a book!
Above: Sana'a By Dar_al_hajar.jpg: Antti Salonenderivative work: MrPanyGoff - Dar_al_hajar.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14894185
Below: Dragon Blood Trees (Public Domain Photo)
All About Henna House and Nomi Eve
“A touching coming-of-age story” (Publishers Weekly) in the tradition of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, about a young woman, her family, their community and the customs that bind them, from “a storyteller of uncommon energy and poise” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).
This vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920. Adela Damari’s parents’ health is failing as they desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter, who is in danger of becoming adopted by the local Muslim community if she is orphaned. With no likely marriage prospects, Adela’s situation looks dire—until she meets two cousins from faraway cities: a boy with whom she shares her most treasured secret, and a girl who introduces her to the powerful rituals of henna. Ultimately, Adela’s life journey brings her old and new loves, her true calling, and a new life as she is transported to Israel as part of Operation On Wings of Eagles.
Rich, evocative, and enthralling, Henna House is an intimate family portrait interwoven with the traditions of the Yemenite Jews and the history of the Holocaust and Israel. This sensuous tale of love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness—and the dyes that adorn the skin and pierce the heart—will captivate readers until the very last page.
Nomi Eve is the author of Henna House and The Family Orchard, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.
She has an MFA in fiction writing from Brown University and has worked as a freelance book reviewer for The Village Voice and New York Newsday.
Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Glimmer Train Stories, The Voice Literary Supplement, Conjunctions, and The International Quarterly. She teaches fiction writing at Drexel University and lives in Philadelphia with her family.