Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
‘Fishing in the Yemen’ is, yes, a fish-out-of-water story; new book offers insights into Henri Nouwen

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the May 17, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

A new film from England has a strange name. It is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. And it would normally be called a ‘‘fish out of water” film as to genre. To that theme is added a romantic comedy with a somewhat over-the-top terrorist subplot. The movie is based on a novel by Paul Torday which I am told is more hard-hitting.

The director, Lasse Hallstrom, who gave us Chocolat, has taken an excellent script by Simon Beaufoy, remembered for giving us the acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire, and made a very enjoyable movie.

An Arab sheik (Amr Waked), who is very religious, has a beautiful palace-like home in Scotland where he spends time salmon fishing. He has the idea of somehow transporting salmon to a dammed-up river in his own country and attracting tourists and new economic possibilities for his people.

So his business associate, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), seeks out a salmon fishing expert, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) to get the project off the ground. Dr. Jones thinks the whole idea is absurd and slowly finds himself forced into taking on the project that will cost an insane amount of money. A PR person for the Prime Minister (Kristan Scott Thomas) sees all kinds of benefits for the Prime Minister, who is looking forward to an upcoming election.

Alfred has been going through a rough patch with his wife, who has taken a position in Switzerland. Harriet has had a connection to a British soldier declared missing in Afghanistan. The expensive and unbelievable project moves ahead with the two key individuals having to work closely together.

The subplot on terrorism is necessary for the story but does seem a bit much. The dialogue among the principals is fast-paced and sometimes very funny. There are many complications along the way to the end of the film.

The acting of Blunt, McGregor, Waked and Scott Thomas is excellent.

After lots of conflict, the question can be asked: do Harriet and Alfred end up together or are they good friends continuing to work on an unique project?

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 because of brief violence, sexuality and profanity. The Catholic News Service rates the film A-III – for adults.

Book Reviews

In 1945 my sister, Patricia, and I moved with our folks to the Mt. Baker district of Seattle where our Dad managed the mens’ department of the downtown J.C. Penney store just a block up from the entrance to the famed Public Market. We joined St. Mary Parish off Jackson Street near today’s International area, where I went to school under the guidance of the Holy Names Sisters. I remember the war posters on the inside of the metal door in the basement of our home that entered the garage. So Jamie Ford’s 2009 novel of the Japanese internment in 1942 really touched me personally.

The book is titled Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and is published by Ballantine Books in large size paperback for a list price of $15.

Ford tells the story, beginning in 1942, of Henry, a 12-year-old Chinese-American, and Keiko, also 12, who is a Japanese-American. The two young people are the only Asians at the private Rainier School. It is after Pearl Harbor and being Asian is a setup for cruel treatment. Henry’s Dad has given him a button to wear that says “I am Chinese” to protect him. Henry never tells his Dad about knowing Keiko because his father would not approve of a friendship with a Japanese person while China is being bombed and attacked by the nation of Japan.

The friendship of the two Asians is the overarching reality of the book. There is a moving section on the Seattle jazz scene as Henry has a strong friendship with an adult musician named Sheldon who plays the saxophone on the street and at the Black Elks Club.

In the story, Oscar Holden composes a new number called “Alley Cats,” named after the two youngsters he has let sneak in the back door of the Elks. A recording of that song has a strong meaning throughout the novel. And it is purchased at Rhodes Department Store, which was just in the next block from Penney’s.

After the Japanese-Americans are “relocated” from Bainbridge Island, all the Japanese-Americans of the International district are sent on trains from Union Station to “Camp Harmony,” which meant living in the animal sections of the Puyallup Fair Grounds. (A minor point: the author calls the site the Washington State Fairgrounds. I grew up as a kid thinking it was called the Western Washington Fair.) Henry gets a job with the cook from his school serving food at the camp so he can see Keiko and her family.

Keiko’s family are eventually sent to Minidoka camp, eighteen miles north of Jerome, Idaho. Henry and Sheldon make a bus trip to the camp after Henry’s 13th birthday so he can see Keiko. The two travelers spend some time between buses in Walla Walla. The author says it was a small farming community known for its apple orchards. Growing up there in the ’50s I didn’t know about the apple orchards, but then, I didn’t know there was a grape within a hundred miles and today there are more than 150 wineries.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a story of young love that doesn’t quite work out the way the principals might desire. But it is a well-told, beautiful story. I do think the part of the story told in the 1980s with Henry son is not as powerful as the war years. And the ending may be a little too good to be true.

If you’ve ever spent any time in Seattle on vacation or living there, this is a story that will come alive for you.


One of the memorable events of my life was the opportunity in the spring of 1985 to take a course from Father Henri Nouwen at Harvard Divinity School as part of a sabbatical program through the Jesuits at then-nearby Weston. The class met three times a week in a very large classroom that must have held more than 200 students. If you didn’t get there 20 minutes early you would need to sit on the floor.

Henri was always sensitive to the few challenges from the students. In fact, with all the adulation present in that room from people of very wide religious backgrounds, Henri always seemed to focus on the few criticisms and at times be crestfallen.

He asked the students to meet once a week on their own with eight or so other members of the class and discuss their week in a prayerful atmosphere. I will always remember a Episcopalian woman in her 60s who told of her son during the Vietnam War period being a conscientious objector who was told he could be a medic. However, the first day of training he was handed a gun for practicing purposes. That night he tragically committed suicide. The group also had a ballet star, a young Cuban doctor-to- be from Miami, a couple both in the divinity school who later married, and a diverse group of other students. This was the last year Henri taught in a university setting.

Wil Hernanez, who has long taught and given retreats across the country in both Protestant and Catholic settings, has written a new book on the writings of Henri Nouwen titled Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension. The book is published in softcover by Paulist Press and has a list price of $16.95.

Hernandez has taken the writings of Father Nouwen and interviews with many of his friends and associates to organize themes under psychological tensions, ministerial tensions, and theological tensions. In so doing he gives the reader a chance to be immersed in the themes of Henri’s writings and his life.

The result is a book that makes for impressive spiritual reading and reflection. The theme of the “wounded healer” comes through in both Father Nouwen’s writings and his life.

Gregory Jensen is quoted saying in Father Nouwen’s own words that each one of us “is called to be the wounded healer, the one who must look after [our] own wounds but at the same time be prepared to heal the wounds of others.”

Wil Hernandez has written a thoughtful book that brings alive the life-changing ideas of a great spiritual writer.


John L. Allen Jr., a noted author who writes on the Vatican, has a new book on the somewhat bigger-than-life Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. The book is titled A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John L. Allen Jr. It is published in hardcover by Image Books of New York for a list price of $25.

After an interesting introduction to events in the American Church and a first chapter than recounts key events in Archbishop Dolan’s life, Allen begins a series of chapters that include an introduction to the specific topic and then a series of questions asked of the now-cardinal and his answers. The topics vary from the sexual abuse crisis, to authority and dissent, to affirmative orthodoxy.

Archbishop Dolan comes across as a John Paul II bishop who tells lots of interesting stories and is very good in terms of the public relations aspect of his answers. He genuinely cares about people. He has many stories about the important influence of Religious women on his life. He remarks that he would have advised against the Vatican-sponsored visitation of American nuns. He states a visitation from the Vatican risks being seen as overkill.

He also was opposed to asking the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a clarification about the issue of giving Communion to politicians who have a pro-choice voting record. He said, “Let’s trust the principle of subsidiarity, a genuine Catholic value: Let things be settled at the local level.”

The archbishop speaks strongly on bishops being in dialogue: “We need to constantly be reaching out, constantly be willing to talk, constantly striving to make our lofty language about the Church as a family a reality,” he tells Allen.

A People of Hope gives real insight into the thoughts and feelings of a key American churchman of our time. It is a very interesting read.

Magazine Update

The May 2012 issue of Vanity Fair has an interesting and informative article of the mid-January sinking of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy. Author Bryan Burrough with accompanying impressive pictures tells the dramatic story of the largest passenger ship ever wrecked. It is a memorable article.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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