A searing novel of the Iraq War from an Iraqi point of view, with Saddam Hussein in a starring role.
Our narrator has no name, but The Tyrant certainly does, and it is on every tongue. As Makiya’s (The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem, 2003, etc.) novel opens, Saddam’s body is swaying in the breeze, having been transferred by The Occupier to the Iraqis as “proof of our independence from the American invaders.” Into that brief phrase a whole world is packed: the Americans are unwanted conquerors, the rulers of Iraq are exiles driven to hang Saddam out of “revenge, or blood libel, or communal solidarity,” and a once-coherent nation, for better or worse, is now splintered irreparably. The narrator, who turns up at key moments in this destruction, has an overarching goal: to find out what happened to his father in 1991, when, in the wake of the first Gulf War, a purge Stalin might have envied swept through Saddam’s ranks. What he learns about that tragedy, clue by clue, makes it all the more unpalatable. Meanwhile, Saddam, who “lives not in [Iraqi] hearts but in their heads as an idea, a fixation they cannot rid themselves of, even though he has nothing to do with their lives,” emerges from the shadows of his hidden bunker to become a character much like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, helping the narrator tease out the truth in a kind of twisted Socratic dialogue: “I was your president,” he intones. “And you are my children, whether you like it or not; even the bastards who sat in judgment over me are my children.” In that fatherly role, Saddam asserts that a nation is really just an idea, and no matter how poisonous the idea might be, it is hard to uproot once planted.
A close study of the psychology of oppression and dictatorship, of a piece with the author’s now classic nonfiction study Republic of Fear (1989).