Saddam and Me: Scribes of a Feather
I’m an unpublished novelist and proud of it. I mean, have you read any of the tripe that passes for literature lately? So when my mystery/terrorist/celebrity/beach/satiric thriller, “The Black Dog Murders” set on Martha’s Vineyard, was summarily rejected all around — and not particularly well received within my immediate family — I felt I was on the right track.
A few more obscure unread novels coupled with my untimely demise, and I could be another Herman Melville, who was wildly unappreciated until well after his death.
Like any unknown writer, I have my moments of utter despair, for example, when my mother opined halfheartedly that my opus “might” make a passable TV movie. Nonetheless, as that classic country lament goes, my black periods happen infrequently: only once a day…every day…all day long.
So when that inevitable novelist’s nadir comes knocking, I cheer myself up by musing upon the struggles of fellow scribes who have overcome adversity and public ennui, big time, like Saddam Hussein. Yes, the peripatetic Butcher of Baghdad is considered in many circles as the Mother of all Authors, whose powerful prose has been characterized (albeit by pre-war Iraqi reviewers) as WMD, or “Words of Mass Destruction.”
One Mesopotamian critic put it thusly: “This despot’s got plot, and his characters can knock you out, literally. Needless to say, this latest Saddam classic is a must read.”
They all were. His first three epics sold like yellow cakes in Iraq, where upwards of 99.9 percent of the homes, schools and libraries contained at least one copy of each. Predictably, cynics will argue, “Sure, big deal, the president of Iraq’s potboilers top the charts in his own country, where the booksellers are heavily armed.”
All very glib, but how does the smart set explain this: Saddam’s fourth novel – and his first since being deposed – has been published in Japan in 2004. Get out, you say? Close. It’s titled “Get Out, You Damned One.” And get this: the author finished the novel on March 18, 2003, one day before the war with America — oops, I mean with the Coalition of the Willing — broke out. Talk about a deadline. An English is set for publication in 2016.
The novel depicts a Euphrates River tribe circa 500 AD that successfully ousts a powerful invading army through classic resistance strategies. Say what you will about Saddam, he has quite an imagination. While the first printing is a modest 8,000 copies, unless I miss my guess there will be many more editions.
The book was blacklisted in Jordan — a time-tested Middle Eastern marketing ploy comparable to being banned in Boston over here.
Of course, the problem that Saddam and I face in this modern philistine era is that people, even some holding high office, simply don’t read novels, newspapers, or much of anything anymore. Imagine if the CIA — not to mention any of our other 87 intelligence agencies — had kept abreast of Saddam’s burgeoning literary career. They might have known before March 2003 that the president of Iraq was more interested in literary agents than chemical ones. Or that he was obsessed with fiction, not international friction, with tomes rather than tombs.
Like any author worth his salt, Saddam is most pleased with his latest masterpiece. As the war commenced on March 19, 2003, Iraqi Prime Minster Teriq Azziz is said to have burst into Saddam’s office, where the All Powerful One was tweaking his manuscript, oblivious to the loud boom of incoming ordinance. “Dear Leader, here comes another bombshell,” the panicky Azziz blurted out.
“Thank you, Teriq,” the smiling author is reported to have replied, “Now tell me something I don’t know.”