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The Tyrant's Novel (Keneally, Thomas) Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Series: Keneally, Thomas
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385511469
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385511469
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,451,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this gripping political allegory, the author of Schindler's List examines a more contemporary instance of people trying to survive in the ethical quagmire of totalitarianism. The protagonist is Alan Sheriff, a writer living in a nameless desert country ruled by a despot who styles himself the "Great Uncle" and who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain recently deposed dictator. A member of the Westernized cultural elite with a fat book contract from Random House, Alan feels himself immune from the political pressures and poverty surrounding him. Then one day he is whisked off to receive a commission from the tyrant himself: to ghostwrite a novel for Great Uncle that will undermine support for sanctions in the West—on a quite literal one-month deadline. Fearing for himself and his friends, torn between remaining in his gilded cage or striking out for a precarious existence abroad, Alan must make agonizing compromises with the truth and his art. Keneally treats this potentially lurid scenario in a realistic and enthralling fashion that fully humanizes all the characters, secret police goons included. In his hands, the cliché of the suffering artiste struggling to avoid selling out takes on real depth and pathos. This is an exquisitely wrought study of moral corruption in a convincing—and frighteningly modern—political dystopia.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

The protagonist of Keneally's latest novel is a successful author in a country that bears more than a passing resemblance to Iraq. One day, he is ordered to write a novel to be published under the name of the country's dictator—and given only a month for the task. As luck would have it, he has recently completed a novel that, with slight modification, will fit the bill. However, he has buried the novel with his late wife. Can he bear to disinter the manuscript in order to save himself? Though concerned with current events, Keneally takes care to give his tale wider resonance. The Middle Eastern characters go by English names, a technique that makes them less foreign to the reader and draws parallels between the subtle self-censorship of Western commercialism and the blunter kind practiced by the arts community in a dictatorship.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Customer Reviews

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Sheriff, a reputable writer, is recruited by Iraq's Great Uncle to post a message to the world.
Stephen A. Haines
Once noted as an upcoming writer in his native land, Sheriff tells the story of life under Great Uncle.
Jerry Saperstein
Keneally increases the impact and universality of the story through his clever use of western names.
Mary Whipple

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on September 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Keneally's The Tyrant's Novel opens in a refugee holding camp of sorts in a Western nation. The initial narrator tells a brief story of meeting one of the refugees held there, Alan Sheriff, who is seeking political asylum and whose story makes up much of this enjoyable novel. Alan was a very successful novelist, with an American publishing contract, in a fictional country that is a thinly-disguised contemporary Iraq. His life is ideal, or as much as that can be when living under a despot's rule, when it pretty much crumbles in front of his eyes. His beloved wife dies suddenly and he is subsequently 'asked' by the Great Uncle, the tyrant of his country (and a dead ringer for Saddam Hussein) to ghostwrite a novel for him. The request is not just for any novel, but one which is so wonderful and moving, one which so exposes the effects that economic sanctions are having on his country that the world's superpowers will be convinced to removed those sanctions. Part of what makes Keneally's novel so wonderful is that it is both a politcal novel and a novel about writing and the creative process. Keneally masterfully, seamlessly blends these two genres into an enjoyable whole. The novel is at once a politcal allegory and a story of symbolic writer's block. It is an excellent, heart-breaking story, well-done and compelling. Enjoy.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In this novel within a novel, Australian author Thomas Keneally returns to the political themes which won him prizes for The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Voices from the Forest, and Schindler's Ark. Keneally has always been at his best depicting ordinary people facing extraordinary pressures, especially from governments bent on totalitarian rule, and this contemporary allegory is no exception. Taking place in an unnamed oil-rich country in the Middle East ruled by a tyrant who calls himself Great Uncle, the novel centers on a man calling himself "Alan Sheriff," a short story writer given one month to write an "autobiographical novel" for which Great Uncle will take full credit. Sheriff, we learn in the opening chapter, is telling his story to a western journalist from a detention camp in an unnamed desert country, where he has languished for three years.

Keneally increases the impact and universality of the story through his clever use of western names. As Alan Sheriff tells the journalist, it is important for his credibility in the west that he be like a man you'd meet on the street, which is much easier with a name like Alan--"not, God help us, Said and Osama and Saleh. If we had Mac instead of Ibn." Alan believes his "saddest and silliest story" will interest Americans, despite the fact that his country and the US are now enemies.

Through Alan's story, the reader meets Mrs. Douglas, whose nephew, not careful enough of the pH level of Great Uncle's swimming pool, has been shot and hanged from the ramparts; Mrs.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on June 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Allan Sheriff, circled by wire in a desolate place, has a story to tell. Actually, he has two stories: one, his own, describing the life of a writer in Hussein's Baghdad and the other with the same theme. The difference is that the first tells the story of the second. Why is Sheriff fenced in at a remote location of almost indescribeable desolation? What abominable crime has put him there? In answering these questions, Thomas Keneally has returned to the top rank of novelists. He excels again with this modern tale of international politics, survival in an oppressive regime, and personal tragedy. This is among the finest of Keneally's works.
Sheriff, a reputable writer, is recruited by Iraq's Great Uncle to post a message to the world. The "sanctions" imposed by the victors of the First Gulf War have brought poverty, lack of food and water and depleted medical facilities to their country. The whims of an arbitrary government, the absolutist nature of the leaders - already a dynasty in the making, and needless casualties from a meaningless war are minimal when contrasted to the universal suffering caused by curtailment of the oil exports. Great Uncle wants Sheriff to expose this injustice through a novel depicting conditions. Sheriff, who might have been willing and able to perform this feat, is afflicted by a more personal crisis - the loss of his wife Sarah.
"Alan"? "Sarah"? This couple is close friends with Matt McBrien and Andrew Kennedy. Are these names typical of a Middle Eastern people? Keneally deftly arabesques away from pigeon-holing these people and their circumstances as "Arabs" or even Muslims.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Calhoun on September 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
THE TYRANT'S NOVEL is at once ingenious and innovative in its ability to mirror recent world history events without disclosing vital identities. While reading it is difficult to not think of current geopolitical events. When we first meet protagonist Alan Sheriff he is being held as a political prisoner in an undisclosed Western nation. While being interviewed by journalists Sheriff explains his tale of how he ended up in his current predicament and his former life in an anonymous nation suffering from U.S.-led oil embargo and is ruled by a ruthless dictator. As the narrative unfolds the similarities between Sheriff's home country and Saddam Hussein's Iraq is quite uncanny and difficult to overlook.

Sheriff was once a member of the elite middle class largely unaffected by the devasting economic repercussions of the oil embargo. But despite his social standings he has created a reputation for his literary skill he is ordered by the tyrant to write a novel about the chaos that has burdened his country to be published under the tyrants name and released in time for a forthcoming G7 summit. Sheriff's been provided a very short deadline and in order to complete this unthinkable task he must battle personal demons that plague him.

Thomas Keneally performs a superb job in creating this fast-paced thriller that failed to lose steam at any given time. I was immediately hooked by the opening paragraph and couldn't wait to reach the end. Recommended.
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