Former-dictator Saddam Hussein is known for many things: his reputation as the Butcher Of Baghdad, his mock elections, the war with the US and the UK. However, one facet of Hussein’s life which gets less attention is his literary career.
Hussein actually wrote four novels during his time in power. These were Zabibah and the King, The Fortified Castle, Men And The City, and Begone, Demons. The latter two were definitely written by Hussein, but there is some discussion around the author of the first two.
Originally, Zabibah and the King and The Fortified Castle didn’t name an author. However, because of the books’ political themes and the utter lack of criticism they received at launch, most scholars believe Hussein either wrote them or heavily supervised the ghostwriting process.
So what are the novels actually about?
Zabibah and the King
The first novel was published in 2000 and features a bizarre romance story. Muslim commoner Zabibah spends every night visiting a pagan king, the hero of the tale. She spends their time together discussing how the king can be the perfect ruler of the people. And they fall in love over this political discussion, naturally.
The idea is that Zabibah and the king represent the relationship between the people and their ruler. More explicitly, Zabibah represents the people of Iraq and the king is Hussein himself.
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Unfortunately, poor old Zabibah already has a brutish husband. He loves orgies, money, and violence. He’s also a metaphor for the US, because obviously.
Anyway, Mr. USA gets wind of Zabibah’s emotional affair with the king and disguises himself then rapes her. His idea is that this will shame and dishonour her so much that the king won’t see her anymore. The date he carries out this plan is 17th January, which, coincidentally, happens to be the same date America first invaded Iraq during the Gulf War. Who would have thought it?
The rape fails to drive the king and Zabibah apart and instead, the king decrees that Zabibah’s husband must be killed. He declares war on Mr. USA. The king and Zabibah charge into battle, with the latter leading the army. Mr. USA is killed and his corpse stoned by the victors. Zabibah dies after a speech celebrating Arab nationalism. And then the king also dies and his army talks about liberation from foreign forces and how they want to be free of kings forever.
An odd aside
Guardian reviewer, Daniel Kalder also shares a tract from the book discussing the bestiality which apparently occurs in Northern Iraq:
Even an animal respects a man’s desire, if it wants to copulate with him. Doesn’t a female bear try to please a herdsman when she drags him into the mountains as it happens in the North of Iraq? She drags him into her den, so that he, obeying her desire, would copulate with her?
It goes without saying that, no, this is not how inter-species interactions work.
The Fortified Castle
Fresh off Iraq’s bestseller list (no seriously) Hussein got to work on his next novel, The Fortified Castle. Like many genre authors looking to break out of their box, Hussein opted to set his book in a new time period: the modern day.
This time, the action follows Sabah, a war hero from the Iraq-Iran and Gulf wars. After being shot in the leg and captured by Iranians he and his friends escape. He has to escape to return to his university in Baghdad, along the way, he falls for a Kurdish girl named Shatrin.
The allegory centres around Hussein’s efforts to win back the allegiance of the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
The book also features a sub-plot about a servant planning to murder his master and escape with his sister. However, the master gets wind of the plot and kills the servant instead. This is a barely veiled reference to Hussein’s belief that Kuwait was stealing Iraq’s oil and his subsequent invasion of the area.
The novel also features descriptions of British and American war planes dropping bombs on Iraqi targets.
Men And The City
After two stabs at fiction, Hussein’s third novel was a long overdue autobiography. Well, a sort of autobiography, at least.
The main character is called Saleh, and his personal history just so happens to match Hussein’s almost exactly. The story tells of how Saleh’s grandfather fought the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. It also details the rise of Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, going into the history of various relatives of Hussein, including his uncle.
Begone Demons or Get Out Of Here, Curse You!
Rumour has it that Hussein’s final novel reached completion just days before America invaded Iraq. Returning to his roots, Hussein’s final novel was another work of historical fiction with a decidedly political focus.
The story is about Isaac, Joseph, and Mahmoud, all of whom were taught by the Biblical figure, Abraham in their youth. They stand in for Jews, Christians, and Muslims respectively.
As he was apparently always of a decidedly evil inclination, Isaac leaves his pals and move to a different country in the West. There he befriends a Roman governor and the two of them make money at the expense of the local population. Joseph eventually goes to join him too.
In order to keep their money to themselves, Isaac, Joseph, and the Roman governor build two towers to store it in. Eventually these two towers are destroyed in flames by Arab fighters who die in the flames as martyrs. After this, Isaac and Joseph invade their former homeland, and Mahmoud must repel their attack.
The BBC also reports that the novel’s female characters were adulterous and deceptive.
Safe to say, outside of Iraq, Hussein’s books never quite attracted the same fanfare that the state media lavished upon them.