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The Weight of a Mustard Seed


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About the Author

Wendell Steavenson is the author of the acclaimed Stories I Stole (Atlantic Books, 2002), which was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. She has worked for Time and written for a variety of publications including the Telegraph, Granta, Prospect and the New Yorker. She lives in Paris.


More than five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein, the country still teeters on the brink of chaos and intercommunal warfare. Can Iraq's recent past explain its current predicament? In this engrossing book, Steavenson (former London correspondent, Time) explores the question by examining the life of Gen. Kamel Sachet, who, before his 1999 execution by the Baathist regime, was a highly decorated officer and a favorite of Saddam Hussein. Drawing on five years of travel and interviewing many Iraqis, including Sachet's family members, the author vividly portrays the moral dilemmas and contradictions that many Iraqis grappled with as they lived and worked under Saddam's dictatorship. For example, although General Sachet was a hero of the Iran-Iraq War and served the Baathist regime as the head of the Iraqi occupying army in Kuwait City during Desert Storm, he refused to allow his sons to join Saddam Hussein's army, which he had termed a criminal organization. The book allows readers to focus on the personal as a means to understanding the political and military calamity that has tragically defined Iraq in the past four decades. Recommended for all public libraries.-Nader Entessar, Univ. of South Alabama, Mobile Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"'A sparkling, poetical hymn to the most romantic and dangerous land in the world.' Simon Sebag Montefiore 'This is the first published book of a practiced and very gifted writer, a young Kapuscinski with a literary future ahead of her...an immensely talented writer.' Neal Ascherson, Observer"

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.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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