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  Book review

Yemen: Evenements Vecus: Medecine Cooperative Francaise sur fond de revolution

by Lucile Fevrier

Les Editions de la Dyle [Pontstraat, 80 B-9831 Sint Martens-Latem (Deurle), Belgique tel: +32(0)92810058], 2002. Pp. 160. 39 b/w photos. Map. Glossary. Pb. 19 Eur/125 FF. ISBN 90-76526-14-1.

At the end of June 1947, Dr Pierre Fevrier, arrived in Sana’a to join a French medical mission headed by an officer whom the author identifies only as ‘le Medecin Colonel’. Fevrier was accompanied by his wife, Louise; their daughter, Lucile aged 17; and their two sons, Lucien aged 21, and Pierre aged 13. Within four months Fevrier was dead. Imam Yahya, who had been his patient, allowed the family to stay on in their house in Bir al-Azab until arrangements could be made for their return to France. In February 1948 the Imam was assassinated, and the family remained in the Yemeni capital until the following July.

Lucile Fevrier prefaces her story of their time in Sana’a with an account of their voyage from Tangier to Aden, and their overland journey to Hodaida and the highlands via Taiz, where parents and children had the intriguing experience of being received by Crown Prince Ahmad.

The Fevriers were a close and happy family; the children relished the opportunity to explore the antique and picturesque world around them. But their happiness was blighted by the death of their father from an enteric complaint aggravated by the machinations of ’le Medecin Colonel’. Louise Fevrier and the children had to turn elsewhere within the tiny European community for support in their bereavement - to Alphonse Lippmann, a former colleague of the celebrated Henri de Montfreid, to John Hewitt of the Desert Locust Survey, and to the eccentric but kindly Marcus Danzker, the Imam’s Engineer-in-Chief.

The author’s two chapters on the assassination of Imam Yahya and the short-lived revolution’ led by Abdullah al-Wazir, ending in the siege, capture and looting of Sana’a by forces loyal to Imam Ahmad, are based on the detailed journal which she kept during those five turbulent weeks. As a day-to-day commentary by a remarkably cool-headed teenager, her account is a unique and fascinating footnote of history. The book’s many photographs (of variable quality) include a gruesome one of the heads of the executed conspirators on public display, which her two brothers could not resist going to see.

Imam Yahya had given permission for Dr Fevrier to be buried by a hillside a few kilometres outside Sana’a, with a stone cross marking his grave. Lucile Fevrier returned to Sana’a in 1981 to visit the grave, not without apprehension of the changes that she would find after an absence of thirty three years. But she was quickly reassured by the warmth and friendliness of her reception, and happy to note that the streets of the city were no longer cleaned by prisoners in leg-irons!

This personal account of life in Yemen during the late 1940s complements that of Claudie Fayein (A French Doctor in Yemen), who joined the French Medical Mission in 1950. Rich in anecdote, local colour and youthful spirit, Lucile Fevrier’s book will interest and entertain all those who share her affection for Yemen and its people.

On a point of detail, it is odd to see the historic place name ‘Zabid’ rendered ‘Zabib’ on the map and in the text, and to see ‘Bir al-Azab’ shorn of its initial consonant.