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I recommend this book to all who are interested in world history. Steavenson uses her skills as a journalist and historian to tell the story of an Iraqi general, his family, and the people and the land behind the headlines.
The Weight of a Mustard Seed
This is a difficult book to read because it tells of those who were close to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. Specifically it relates stories of one general, Kamel Sachet, and his family. The book is written almost as a series of essays or feature reports based on interviews gathered over time. In fact the author is/has been a reporter.
A Relevant and Worthwhile Read
I think the book is as truthful as the author could make it but during the telling of the story she has speculated on certain happenings. My favorite parts of the book were when the members of General Sachet's family were featured. There may be book clubs that would enjoy discussing this book but I can only think of it in terms of the bookclub in which I participate and I don't think it would be a book they would choose based upon the subject matter.
The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson is relevant to the times, informative, and thought provoking. Although the author sets out to tell the story of General Kamel Sachet, there are many stories within the novel about individuals, some powerful and some with no power at all, sharing their experiences and life stories. The book spans over several years, marking much of Saddam Hussein's reign over Iraq. It offers insight into a people and country that have been in turmoil for many years, those that have had to adapt and reinvent themselves repeatedly in an effort to survive despite the odds.
This non-fiction book by esteemed Journalist, Wendell Steavenson, is immensely interesting. She has gone into Iraq and picked an individual - General Kamel Sachet - to illustrate the fascinating and terrible ways in which the wars in Iraq over the past 30 have affected real people. Sachet was a career soldier, a hero of the Iran-Iraq War, part of the Iraqi invasion force in Kuwait, a one-time favorite of Saddam and finally an honorable man who was executed by those in charge for his incorruptibility.
Thr Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson
The book details the kind of life his family led - the author being a somewhat frequent guest in their home. It also goes into the psychological impact that so much war, so much terror and violence has on a society.
It is fascinating and horrific. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in the Iraqi version (or versions) of what has been happening there since the rise and now the fall of the Saddam regime.
This is a very sad book, no happy endings here, but all Americans, and Brits, who have ever expressed an opinion about the situation in Iraq, should definitely read it. It is not a political book, no editorializing here, just a detailed history of the country through the Saddam Hussein years, with particular attention to the career and family of one man, General Kamel Sachet. It is the story of his rise in the military, his patriotism and honor, and how he increasingly turned to religion as time progressed. Saddam's brutalities are not glossed over, Gen.Sachet was appalled by them, but he had to deal with the regime in the only way he knew that would protect his family.
The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Stevenson
Wonderful descriptions - "American tanks squatted like great toads amid the wasteland trash."
My only disappointment, no pictures! Only descriptions of the photographs, in the spaces where presumably they will appear in the final edition (I read an advanced readers copy). I would have loved to see his wife in her early years, glamorous in western dress, before she chose to switch to Islamic clothing. And all the family in the very early days of Saddam Hussein, when life was good.
A very different view of Iraq. The intrigues, machinations and complications described read like a work of fiction, not the non-fiction it actually is. a bit difficult to keep track of the plots, sub-plots, family and tribal names. Fortunately the author has provided a description of the large cast of characters as well as a glossary of the religious and security terminology pertinent to the story.
I Expected More
Wendell Steavenson, through interviews, paints a picture, although often disjointedly, of Iraq before, during and after the reign of Saddam Hussein. The book was supposed to highlight the life of General Kamel Sachet but I learned much more. Iraq's people, customs, politics, religion and attitudes towards America are presented through the voices of many people.
Looking for Answers
It was quite distressing to read how young Muslim men are indoctrinated in their religious schools to be prepared for jihad. The ruthless torture of Iraqi prisoners by Iraqi guards was horrifying to read about.
Steavenson makes a feeble attempt to understand the 'whys' of certain behaviors that were reminiscent of WWII Nazi Germany and questions how ordinary people become "an instrument of the regime" and begin to do "monstrous things". How does a society spin so out of control?
Although the language is clearly written, this book is so disorganized that it was often difficult to follow. However, I found that I learned a great deal and for this reason I recommend it.
Wendell Steavenson explores an age old question - why do people follow bad leaders even against their better judgment?
She follows the career of one of Saddam's Generals interviewing his family and colleagues, using their stories to illuminate Iraq's descent into years of warfare and dictatorship.
I was disappointed at the lack of any real analysis of how Iraq came to accept brutality as a method of governance. Her writing style seemed very unfocused and meandering at times, getting the General's story across but not really allowing us to learn much in the process.
That being said, I would still recommend this book for anyone looking for an easy to read history of Iraq leading up to the invasion. There are plenty of other books on the subject if you're looking for a deeper social and political analysis.