A Diamond in the Desert – Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World’s Richest City  

by Jo Tatchell

Review by:  Julie Kreutzer

This very interesting book, was written by a woman who was a child of British Ex-Pats with a catering business at the start of Abu Dhabi’s boom.  She saw Abu Dhabi, UAE grow from a mostly sand stretched and undeveloped desert and coastline to the gleaming city it is today.  She has a birds-eye perspective from having grown up there, then returning as a young adult to work there after college and then returning for a visit years later.

To hear the author tell it, visiting Abu Dhabi is fascinating for a number of reasons. For one thing, this is a truly futuristic place because no expense has been spared to have the latest skyscrapers, hotels, marinas and museums.  It’s also a place where ancient aspects of Islam meet a complex and modern society.  Also of note is that Abu Dhabi is one of those places that is operating in the present and so oriented toward the future as to completely forget it’s past.  So much so that it’s a running joke that throughout the book she tries to find an archive of newspapers from the seventies (when she was a kid there) and onward so as to trace the sudden transformation of the city due to oil money.  She is never able to, despite being referred to various agencies in their stunning skyscrapers.

One gets the impression that Abu Dhabi would prefer to forget that before the oil boom, many Emiratis were a nomadic people that led a challenging existence in the desert or they were pearl fishers or merchants.  Another part of the book that is amusing is the description of young, wealthy, and sophisticated Emiratis seeing pictures at an exhibit of those early days.  They clearly can’t quite reconcile it.  But it’s a great reminder to all of us who have forgotten our own past beyond our immediate family.

The book is also useful for the potential traveler since it makes clear there is much to see in Abu Dhabi, but the United Arab Emerates is a fairly conservative Muslim country, with all that entails.  Abu Dhabi, for all that it is more progressive than many middle-eastern places one might visit, is not the sort of place where one wears a bikini.

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