The Weight of a Mustard Seed Summary and Reviews

The Weight of a Mustard Seed

The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny

by Wendell Steavenson

The Weight of a Mustard Seed
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2009
    304 pages
    Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

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Book Summary

General Kamel Sachet was a favorite of Saddam Hussein's, a hero of the Iran-Iraq war, head of the army in Kuwait City during Desert Storm, governor of the province of Maysan, and father of nine children. When author Wendell Steavenson became intrigued by his story, she began with a few questions about Sachet and his fellow Baathist loyalists: "Why had they served such a regime? How had they accommodated their own morality? How had they lived? How had they lived with themselves?"

Her journey to find these answers took five years, and an accumulation of facts, opinions, fears, confessions and suspicions from Sachet's family, friends, and enemies. The result is not just a gripping account of one man's rise and fall, but a vivid and compassionate portrayal of the Iraqi people.

As Sachet rose from policeman to Special Forces officer and then General, he made more and more sacrifices to remain in Saddam's good favor. Steadfast in his loyalty to God and his President, Sachet attended military executions and endured his own imprisonment as Saddam's behavior took increasingly paranoiac and power-crazy turns. But when it came time for Sachet's sons to do their military service, he refused to let them join the "criminal" organization to which he had given his life. Kamel Sachet realized, too late, that he'd become a participant in the terror regime that had strangled his county and destroyed its people.

Through his story and the stories of those around him, Wendell Steavenson shows the choices Iraqis have had to make between exile and collaboration, God and jihad. Here are the Iraqis behind the headlines and the tragedy begotten of unintended consequences. And here is the first full-length narrative from an immensely talented journalist who has already been compared by critics to Bruce Chatwin and Ryszard Kapucinksi.

Through the story of General Kamel Sachet, Wendell Steavenson shows the choices Iraqis have had to make between exile and collaboration, God and jihad. Here are the Iraqis behind the headlines and the tragedy begotten of unintended consequences.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"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." - Publishers Weekly.

"Taking her title from a verse of the Koran promising to mete out justice even to the "weight of a mustard seed," the author weaves a fascinating account of how good men went terribly wrong." - Kirkus Reviews.

"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." - Library Journal.

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Reader Reviews

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Beth

Immensely Interesting
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.
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.

Patricia

Thr Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson
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.

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.

Sharon

Iraq's Descent into Terror
This book is the story of life in Iraq under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, as told by the family and friends of a general under his command.

The general, Kamel Satchet, was a hero of the Iran-Iraq war, but later became reluctant to follow the orders of an increasingly brutal and unbalanced leader. His military career is related through interviews with his widow, his oldest daughter who was never allowed to marry, his second son who studied to be an imam, and several generals and other military men who had known and served with General Satchet. Some of these individuals were living in Iraq when the author interviewed them. She had to disguise herself as an Iraqi woman and take other precautions to avoid being kidnapped as a foreign journalist.

I could not put this book down. It is a chilling account of the internal destruction of a country and its culture. It is a very timely topic and offers insights not seen in the usual media outlets. The stories are presented as told and the reader can draw his/her own conclusions. A glossary at the back of the book was very helpful with definitions of different political and religious factions and individuals.

Muneeb

Recommended
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.

Wendy

A Relevant and Worthwhile Read
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.

Beatrice G.

The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Stevenson
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.

...7 more reader reviews

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Wendell Steavenson is the author of the acclaimed memoir Stories I Stole. She has lived in and reported from post-Soviet Georgia, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. Her work has appeared in the London Observer, the Telegraph, Prospect magazine, the Financial Times, Slate, Granta, the New Yorker, and Time. She lives in Paris.

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