From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Early in this portrait of Iraqi general Kamel Sachet, Steavenson (Stories I Stole
) warns, In Iraq, there was never one story, there were always many stories, layers of episodes, each one a wound. She examines the life of General Sachet from his humble beginnings to his rise in the Iraqi army and his growing closeness with Saddam Hussein. Sachet was commander of special forces and the general in charge of the army in Kuwait during the first Gulf War. His life was one of service to his country, and his moral compass set by a military code. Yet his obedience, Steavenson reveals, came at a price: as his repulsion for the demagoguery of the Baath party and Saddam's sadism grew, the terror tactics of the regime kept him and his peers paralyzed. Steavenson is a talented writer and her reconstruction of Sachet's story is staggering in its revelation of a collective psychological trauma that continues to grip a nation. (Mar.)
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Steavenson, a journalist who has lived in and reported from Iran and Iraq, seeks to discover why underlings continued to serve during Saddam Hussein’s regime, even as they saw firsthand the terror he perpetrated on the innocent. “How had they lived with themselves?” she asks. She investigates the career and ultimate demise of one famous general, Kamel Sachet. Born in 1947, he joins the police in 1975, then the army, and is later promoted to the Special Forces during the war with Iran. In 1983, he is inexplicably imprisoned. Steavenson deftly interjects interviews with those connected to Sachet through the years into her story, including a Dr. Hassan, who was accused of disloyalty and became Sachet’s cellmate. After Sachet is released, he is called before Saddam himself, who, inexplicably, promotes him—one of many examples of Hussein’s use of the rod and reward, banishment and reinstatement. Steavenson finds the “flicker of conscience” she seeks with the discovery that Kamel Sachet steadfastly kept his sons out of the military before he himself was assassinated in 1998. --Deborah Donovan