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The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny Hardcover – March 17, 2009
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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
Top customer reviews
Despite myself I liked this book, for me, it gave me valuable insight into life in Iraq under Saddam Hussain and even in the psyche of the Iraqi. It provides some explanation for the violence that has plagued Iraq since Saddam's downfall.
Why didn't I give it more stars? The story is fairly confusing, the author will introduce new people and give their whole back story, for an entire chapter, so when you get back to the main story of Sachet you are a bit discombobulated, confused. I couldn't keep up with all the names. Additionally, the author adds her thoughts into the story, how she viewed the people she was talking too, which adds further to the muddle. The author also tries to understand why so many people went along with the brutality of the Saddam dictatorship, that should have been a book unto itself - just seemed like a detour in the main story. Finally, the story is pieced together through interviews, and as Sachet is dead, so much is left out, the author can only guess or infer to Sachet's motivates, thoughts, etc. Even his demise, how Sachet was killed is up in the air - too much unresolved; the book ends but I feel left hanging.
Now the big question, would I recommend the book.....yes I would, it definitely lets one see something of everyday ordinary Iraqi's before and after the fall of Saddam Hussain and perhaps why they don't get along and why they don't like the US. Good book for a commuter or on a long plane ride. (less)
In addition to Ms. Steavenson's talent as a writer, it took no small amount of bravery on her part to compile this story. Her reward should be your reading of this compelling book.