Skip to main content

Book Review: The Woman who Fell From the Sky - An American Journalist in Yemen

“Travel is always like this, I remind myself.  Uneven, with stretches of loneliness and anxiety followed by unparalleled moments of bliss and discovery.  In the droughts, I have to learn to trust that the joy will come.”

This is one of my favorite quotes (and there are many) from The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen, by Jennifer Steil, this month’s book review.  It’s a true story about a journalist from New York who is looking for a change and takes a short assignment to teach the basics of news reporting to a rag tag group of reporters and editors at the Yemen Observer in Sana’a, which is said to be the oldest city on earth.  As a young, career-minded, very liberal woman, it seems like folly at first that she could even remotely feel that she could make a difference in this male-dominated, Muslim, Middle Eastern country.  We forget momentarily that she was actually invited to conduct the training so there’s got to be some interest from the publisher to create a newspaper with Western values.

Does she appear idealistic at the beginning?  Maybe.  But, she makes such an impression during the three week training program that she is offered a job as editor-in-chief on a one-year contract.  Her charges are a mix of both male and female writers who possess various skill levels but all very rudimentary.  None have even the most basic understanding of how a news story is investigated and written, preferring to write their own opinions as fact. 

Her year in Yemen is full of adventure starting with the challenge of simply settling into expat life.  One day very soon after her arrival it dawns on her that even as a well-traveled, thick-skinned New Yorker, this was a land more foreign than she’d ever been in.  “I had no idea how to find my way around this medieval city.  It was getting dark. I was tired.  I didn’t speak Arabic.  I was a little frightened.”  Determined, she shakes it off and passionately embraces her new position, protecting and defending the women on her staff (who are fighting the cultural norms of the region by pursuing careers) and patiently cajoling the men to do their jobs in order to make deadline often coxing them in from the courtyard where they take long breaks to chew qat.

Steil faces the expected daily battles of producing a newspaper but also a constant power struggle with her male boss and co-editor (as a woman and an expat she can’t officially be the editor) and the cultural limitations of being a woman in Yemen doing what’s perceived to be a man’s job.  Her female reporters must be home before dark and aren’t allowed to travel alone making it difficult for her to send them out on assignment. 

Kidnappings, stampedes and suicide bombings are part of the daily grind but things get even more tense when her co- editor is put on trial and the government threatens to shut down the Observer for good when the paper re-prints a controversial editorial cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. 

The Woman who Fell from the Sky is a beautifully written, riveting read.  It’s very timely for this memoir to come out while the role of the media in the Middle East is being hotly debated.  The character development is brilliant and I found myself really cheering her on and feeling her pain as she took two steps forward and one step back.  I too have delivered communication and media training programs in this part of the world and I could really relate to what she was experiencing.  What we take for granted in the West is not so clearly defined in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).  Their realities are very different and there are adjustments that Steil must make as she absorbs the unfamiliar realities of Yemen.  I will close by sharing with you that there is a story book ending that would rival any romance novel but that comes at the very end and I’m not going to give it away.  You’ll just have to read it!


Miss Footloose said…
Thank you for this review! As an expat writer, I've lived in a number of foreign countries and love reading books about the expat experiences of others.

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky sounds like just the one I'd love to read. I'm off to order it.

Popular posts from this blog

Virtual Book Tour for The Healing Begins April 23

As we approach launch day for Lynda Faye Schmidt's novel, The Healing , a women's fiction/family drama based on the author's life, we're excited to announce the blog tour schedule and introduce you to the bloggers and book reviewers who have joined the tour. The tour begins on launch day, April 23rd. Take a look, follow these bloggers and make sure you visit on the tour dates indicated (check back regularly for updates): Pre-Tour - March 2 - Thrive Global - pre-launch announcement  April 16 - Fit for Joy - pre-launch podcast interview with Lynda April 23 - IndieView - author Q&A with Lynda April 24 -  Canadian Bookworm  - featuring a guest blog by Lynda, "What Inspired Me" April 26 - Dartmouth Book Exchange - author spotlight April 29 - Storybook Reviews - review May 4 -  Help Me Sara  - podcast interview May 13 -  My Question Life  - review and author interview June 30 - Reader's Favorite - review  Date TBD - Maryse's Book Blog - review Date

By the Light of the Cresent Moon Virtual Book Tour

On August 26th, we will launch Ailsa Keppie's much awaited memoir, By the Light of the Crescent Moon . On the same day we will launch her virtual book tour, featuring the blogs below joining the tour with reviews, author Q&As and guest posts. Visit and follow these blogs and make sure you follow the tour. As the posts go live we will update the links here to go direct to the tour post. Thanks to the following bloggers & podcasters who have joined the tour: Dartmouth Book Exchange - author spotlight - August 23-26 The IndieView - author Q&A - August 26 Sarah Butland's Imagination Captured - book review - August 26 The Author Journey with OC Publishing - author interview - August 26 Canadian Bookworm - guest post by Ailsa Keppie, Why I Wrote My Memoir - August 27 Just Reviews - book review - August 28 Storeybook Reviews - guest post by Ailsa Keppie, The Voice in My Head - August 29 Lisa Haselton's Reviews & Interviews - author Q&A - August 31 Laura&

Holiday Launch Planned for Late Author's Second Children's Book

 We are saddened by the recent passing of the very vivacious, funny, gorgeous, and talented author, Jackie Arnason. Last year, at the age of 87, we published her first Children's book, Hambone-Why Pigs Have Curly Tails . After a brief illness, Jackie passed away in September of this year, while we were well-underway in the publishing process for her second book, Timothy Titus Terrance O'Toole and the Dragon. With the support of her family, we pressed on and will launch her book in December.  Jackie Arnason A beloved story-teller to all those who knew and loved her, with the publishing of her first book, and now her second, a lifelong dream has been fulfilled. Her legacy will live on in the lessons and magical stories she shared through the years. A prairie girl, born in a small town in Saskatchewan, Jackie's childhood years in the 'Dirty Thirties' were hard but the local library became her haven where she escaped into worlds she could only dream of growing up in Reg