2007-12-02 16:41:29 UTC
The manuscript for this unpublished Fleming work resides at the Lilly
Library on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. I visited
there a few months ago and held the library's bound copy of this work
in my admittedly trembling hands. For the remainder of this article I
chose to use the acronym "SOE:IOK" when referring to the book's title.
Physical features and condition of the bound manuscript:
The manuscript is bound in red leather with the title embossed in gold
on the cover and along the spine. The dimensions of the bound
manuscript are smaller than Fleming's Bond manuscripts which are also
housed at the Lilly. There are 145 pages. The book was copyrighted in
Inside the cover is a mock up of the intended dust-jacket. There is a
clear glossy mylar overlay sheet with the title hand painted in
English with a middle-eastern type of script. Beneath the mylar sheet
there is a photograph which depicts the gold coin currency in use in
Kuwait at the time that the book was written.
An odd feature of the book is that it is typed on what appears to be a
fairly light paper stock which is much like tracing paper. It almost
looks as though the pages were typed through carbon paper. There is
some ink bleeding effect around the typed text. The pages are
numbered in type and unlike the Bond manuscripts; there are only a few
hand-written changes throughout. There are also many pages of
photographs depicting Kuwaiti life and showing the oil fueled massive
development of the country's infrastructure.
"This is the only bound copy of a short book I wrote on Kuwait in
December 1960. It was a condition of my obtaining facilities to visit
Kuwait and write the book that the text should have the approval of
the Kuwait Oil Company, whose guest I was. The Oil Company expressed
approval of the book but felt it their duty to submit the typescript
to members of the Kuwait Government for their approval. The Sheikhs
concerned found unpalatable certain mild comments and criticisms and
particularly the passages referring to the adventurous past of the
country which now wishes to be 'civilised' in every respect and forget
its romantic origins. Accordingly the book was stillborn. The
copyright is the property of the Kuwait Oil Company and may not be set
up in print or quoted from without the written approval of the
Note: The statement 'This is the only bound copy ...' may be apocryphal
since other research indicates that there were a total of four copies
printed. Three of those are said to be in the possession of anonymous
Fleming stated at one time that chronicling of the trip to Kuwait was
intended to be part of Thrilling Cities. That book initially started
life as a series of articles commissioned by the London Sunday Times.
Unfortunately due to scheduling and budget conflicts it didn't work
out at the time of that project and so the Kuwait trip was shelved.
SOE:IOK was eventually commissioned by the Kuwait Oil Company and
Fleming spent several weeks traveling around the country. He was
taken around by two westerners who had friends in the Kuwaiti Oil
Company and was later entertained by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah
(ruler of Kuwait 1950-1965) himself at his numerous palaces.
The author's narrative style here is similar to Thrilling Cities. And
like that book Fleming describes things as he saw them with a rather
flippant and somewhat boyish 'wonder of it all' attitude.
I knew from Fleming's introduction and other research that the book
contained some passages that the Kuwaiti government (read Royalty)
found, shall we say "less than complimentary" to them. So one of my
goals was to find out what it was that kept the general reading public
from getting a chance to read this Fleming work with his interesting
views of a society undergoing massive change.
In typical style Fleming took it all in and described it just as he
saw it. Like Thrilling Cities he pulls no punches (as with '007 in
New York' in that book) and this would likely seem the reason that
this work wasn't approved for publishing.
Fleming states very early on in the manuscript that he was not an
"Arabist" (i.e. one who studies the history and culture of the
Mideast). He didn't know enough about their customs and protocols and
therefore stepped on the sandaled feet of his host. As I read the
text I got the impression that this was the root cause or reason for
his failure to obtain permission to publish the work. Within the
text this is very apparent and I've chosen two examples to illustrate
his apparent naiveté:
At one point Fleming describes the occasion of a dinner with royalty
where he is served up (much to his shock) sheep's eyeballs! He offers
up a great many words pondering whether this is really meant to be a
delicacy for an honored guest or if it is some form of a ruse to
'test' the unwitting foreigner. So taken aback by this occurrence is
he that he makes a number of inquiries with the "locals" asking what
this "tradition" is all about. He states with a kind of righteous
finality that he could find no one amongst them that "cared for or
much less would even consider" eating this supposed delicacy.
Pertaining to the question; "why didn't this book get published?" the
implications here are two-fold. Either Fleming upset the Sheikh by
a). rejecting the proffered delicacy or b). that his words revealed
their ruse and ruined their fun. Either way he comes off as a bit of
an insolent foreigner.
A second rather humorous story the author relates revolve around an
invitation he received to dine at one of the Sheikh's numerous
palaces. It seems that this palace located somewhere along the
Persian Gulf coast had a very long dock which extended out far from
land and at its end was a beautiful building where the Sheihk invited
Fleming and other guests. In grand fashion the guests were carried
from the shore in a stretch limousine out along the dock to the mini-
palace. He noticed that after the guests had been dropped off, the
driver had to back up the entire length of the dock, turn around and
then back up the entire length of the dock once again. Fleming
surmised that the driver was instructed to do this so that when the
dinner was finished, the Sheikh and his guests could get back into the
car on the 'correct' side and drive "forward" back to the shore.
Fleming, almost snidely relates that even with all that money at his
disposal the Sheikh couldn't design and build a dock with a wide
enough turn around. In other words, in this little vignette Fleming
is mocking his host's design and thereby his intelligence.
These two examples are indicative of a seemingly arrogant tonal trend
which traps Fleming throughout the manuscript. Whether these qualify
as the true "show stoppers" or not remains basically unclear since
neither, the Kuwati Oil Company, the Kuwati Royal family nor Ian
Fleming Publications has to date publicly released any "official"
statement as to why publishing rights were denied.
In Fleming's defense though, I would offer the following comment. At
points throughout, Fleming is very complimentary about how the Sheikh
treated his subjects. From the text we learn that the government
provided free education and healthcare for his subjects. In many ways
he was in awe of the country's socio-economic explosion. Hence,
Fleming's own "state of excitement" while writing this piece. His
experience was through the eyes of a non-Arabist westerner. He was
almost completely unprepared for and inexperienced at the social
protocols ingrained in Arabic culture. The sheikh on the other hand
was also unaware of how his actions and planning might be perceived by
this western visitor.
We are told about the massive changes Kuwait experienced during this
period. Truly there was no previous historical precedent for the
speed with which the infrastructure building occurred. The explosive
impact of which resulted in a huge cultural changes. Kuwait within
the period of about a decade basically went from third world status to
being one of the wealthiest countries on the global map. The sheikh
and his fellow countrymen made huge strides in turning an essentially
arid desert into an oil producing giant. Certainly with an
undertaking of this size mistakes were made. Fleming commented about
the mish mash of building styles that occurred. "Houses were built
with Mercedes in the driveway right next to houses with Fords".
Western and American architectural styles were set next to one another
and Fleming didn't hesitate to state his distaste nor, I think did he
have the foresight to think about how his views might be perceived by
his hosts, the Kuwaiti Royalty.
Those familiar with Fleming's other works know that he prepared
himself for a writing task by performing thorough research. In this
case he may have had too much cultural shock to be as effective as he
was for say the Bond books or Thrilling Cities. He isn't particularly
bad here, just not maybe as well prepared or experienced with this
writing assignment as he was with his other works.
The opinion I came away with is that while living the experience,
Fleming was somewhat out of his cultural element and was a bit too
flippant in his portrayal of the bourgeoning changes to the Kuwati way
of life. He lavishes praise upon the Sheikh's efforts but too late
and one might think, not enough to satisfy the royalty's ego.
Having been to the Lilly Library I cannot emphasize how much it is
worth the trip for those interested in Ian Fleming's life and works.
Holding the original James Bond manuscripts is a true pleasure but is
only part of the fun. The Lilly also houses Fleming's massive
collection of Scientific Articles.
To get a taste for what you will find there you may want to visit
As time permits I know that I will go there again and I hope you will
Comments about this article are welcome