- In 2000, Saddam Hussein published an allegorical romance novel called “Zabiba and the King.”
- Not much is known about production of the book, but you can buy an English translation on Amazon.
- It gives a glimpse into Saddam’s ideology, but isn’t exactly heralded for its artistic merit.
When you think of words to describe former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, “creative” does not typically come to mind.
So you might be surprised to learn that in 2000, Saddam published a romance novel that, 17 years later, remains one of the true deep cuts in the genre of “dictator lit.”
An English translation of the book, titled “Zabiba and the King,” is available for purchase on Amazon. It’s one of four novels attributed to Saddam.
The 160-page book is described as an allegorical love story set thousands of years ago about an Iraqi king – who symbolises Saddam himself – and a villager named Zabiba. During her nightly visits to the king’s palace, they converse for hours about religion, love, nationalism, and the will of the people.
“It rapidly becomes apparent that the Zabiba-King relationship functions as a torturously extended metaphor for the relationship between the People and the Ruler,” Daniel Kalder not-so-generously wrote for The Guardian in 2011.
There is actually some debate over whether Saddam wrote the book himself. It was initially published anonymously, and because of its political themes, and the fact that there was reportedly was no criticism of the book in Iraq, many analysts believed it could only have been authorised by Saddam himself.
Officials at the Central Intelligence Agency pored through the book for possible insights into the dictator’s worldview, and concluded that it was likely written by ghostwriters while Saddam carefully supervised its production, according to The New York Times. Still, others are convinced Saddam was responsible for the prose.
“Some critics have suggested that Zabiba and the King was ghostwritten. I doubt that: it is so poorly structured and dull that it has the whiff of dictatorial authenticity,” Kalder wrote.
Kalder wrote that the substance of the book was almost completely forgettable, save for one bizarre scene in which a character describes interspecies mating between a herdsman and a bear, apparently meant to represent Russia and Iraq.
A review on the book’s Amazon page seems to pretty much sum it up:
“If you’re going to buy this book, buy it as an historical curiosity, not for literary entertainment. It is a complete trainwreck of a book,” reviewer Mike Lewis wrote. “The book, overall, is a painful mess to slog through.”
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