Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a report has resurfaced revealing that late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had a rather soft side when it came to literature and the elusive world of metaphor.
According to Business Insider, the novel “Zabiba and the King” was published in 2000 and is among four different books — and a number of poems — penned by Hussein, who earned himself a spot on the infamous list of “lit” dictators.
The 160-page book has been translated to English, and copies are up for grabs on Amazon, where readers can find mixed reviews on this allegorical love story set thousands of years in the past.
Though it is no Mein Kampf, the novel is said to tell the tale of an Iraqi king who symbolizes none other than Hussein himself, and a lowly villager named Zabiba who journeys to the king’s palace every night.
During these visits, the unlikely pair converse for hours on end about religion, love, nationalism and the will of the people. It’s an allegory which many see as a thinly veiled metaphor regarding Hussein and those he ruled.
“It rapidly becomes apparent that the Zabiba-King relationship functions as a torturously extended metaphor for the relationship between the People and the Ruler,” Daniel Kalder wrote in a book review for The U.K. Guardian.
Kalder described the scenes that follow, which include rape, perfunctory battle scenes as a war rages on between Iraq and the U.S., and an all-forgiving king.
“Zabiba leads an army into battle. She dies, hailing Arab nationalism,” Kalder stated. “Zabiba’s husband (U.S.) is killed; the victors stone his corpse.”
“Then a bizarre epilogue erupts in which the victors talk at length about liberation from foreigners and how they don’t want kings any more. The King dies,” he added.
Yet, suspicions have been raised as to whether or not the dictator actually penned all 160 pages himself, with officials at the Central Intelligence Agency poring through the novel for insights into Hussein’s worldview and the details therein.
The agents concluded that the book may have been written by ghostwriters while Hussein supervised the details of its production.
However, others remain convinced that the late dictator was responsible for the prose, highlighting its many political themes and the fact that there had been little to no criticism of the book — an unsurprising phenomenon considering the dictatorial nature of Hussein’s rule.
Kalder, meanwhile, pointed to the lack of originality and creativity that flows through each page to suggest that Hussein did, in fact, author it.
“Some critics have suggested that Zabiba and the King was ghostwritten,” Kalder wrote. “I doubt that: it is so poorly structured and dull that it has the whiff of dictatorial authenticity.”
Kalder added that the substance of the book was nearly forgettable, except for a scene in which a character describes an intimate interspecies scene between a herdsman and a bear, which is rumored to represent Russia and Iraq.
Many Amazon reviewers seemed to agree with Kalder. One reader stated that the book should be bought as a “historical curiosity, not for literary entertainment,” and added that it was a “painful mess to slog through.”
The theme of the story, the U.K. Metro suggested, seems to follow the same one present in Hussein’s other stories, where a heroic protagonist tends to be the focus.
In “Damned One, Get Out Of Here,” the plot is rife with the ideology of a dictator, as an Arab warrior saves his hometown from a plot to revolt and overthrow a leader. The book even contains a foreword by Hussein’s daughter.
In “Begone, Demons,” the 256-page book highlights the tensions between the Middle East and the U.S. and was reportedly finished by Hussein not long before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.