Diana Untermeyer is the wife of the former ambassador to Qatar and her experience of moving to the Middle East with her family is the framework for Qatar: Sand, Sea & Sky, a lovely book celebrating the nation and its people. Qatar is a young country and an essentially Muslim one. It is poised for rapid growth, fueled by what Untermeyer terms petrocurrency. The previous generations of Qataris often lived without running water or electricity and development has come to Qatar with startling rapidity. How does a country deal with sudden growth and take steps to endure long term prosperity? Qatar has taken major steps toward modernity with new schools and medical centers. Untermeyer treads with an ambassador’s wife’s tact over thornier issues such as the prevalence of cousin marriage, the issue of face and head covering for women, and the struggle for equal rights.
The affection that Untermeyer feels for Qatar and its people shines through on every page. Because of her status as both a foreigner and a dignitary, her view of the country is likely gilded but that only makes this book more of a pleasure to explore. Henry Dallal’s pictures showcase the people, the culture, and the landscape in rich tones. He has a worthy subject and handles it admirably. He works in film and his images have lush tones that call to mind the issues of National Geographic that captured so many young minds with visions of faraway places.
In her section on sand, Untermeyer juxtaposes stories of the nomadic Bedouin lifestyle with stunning images of the desert. Water is an integral part of Qatar’s story and part of the country’s challenge is to use its wealth to provide environmental resources for future generations. Qatar also has a coastline of 350 miles and the sea is a big part of Qatari life. Pearling was once a major industry in Qatar, dominating the economy in the early 1900s before the days of cultured pearls changed the market forever. Once Qatar’s gulf was filled with wooden dhows for pearling, now the area is piloted by the world’s largest liquid natural gas tankers.
Today’s Qatar is a land of constant construction, of skyscrapers and museums designed by some of the world’s most famous architects. Qatar will command the world’s attention when it hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It is a land both rooted in tradition and striving for modern greatness. Untermeyer’s book, equal parts love letter and tourism advertisement, is lyrical enough to make any intrepid traveler think about booking plane tickets. The coffee-table-worthy book has a list price of $72.