Saddam Fantasy Headed for Silver Screen

Nine-metre bronze sculptures of Saddam Hussein in the grounds of the Republican Palace, Baghdad, 2005, by Kim Gordon, USDoD, via WikiCommons

Nine-metre bronze sculptures of Saddam Hussein in the grounds of the Republican Palace, Baghdad, 2005, by Kim Gordon, USDoD, via WikiCommons

The comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen is making a film based on a book by Saddam Hussein. The film, due to be released in May 2012, has the working title of The Dictator, and is based on a book written by the former dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Agence France Presse reports that the creator of the comic characters Ali G, Borat and Brüno will be adapting a novel believed to have been written by Saddam - if not actually by the man, at least by ghostwriters under his supervision.

According to Wikipedia, Zabibah and the King was first published anonymously in 2000, but its true authorship was easily divined when, soon after publication, it was announced that the novel would be adapted for the stage and screen (a 20-part television series, no less). One Amazon reviewer describes the plot as being about an “intimate friendship between a lonely, unhappy king and an unusually perceptive and spirited peasant girl [that] paves the way for the abolition of a decadent monarchy and the establishment of a popular government.”

As well as occasionally turning his pen to poetry, Saddam Hussein is commonly believed to have written and published four novels. In a 2004 review of Be Gone Demons!, Iraqi novelist and critics Ali Abdel Amir concluded, “[Saddam] was completely out of touch with actual reality, and novel writing gave him the chance to live in delusions.” Saad Hadi was one of the ghostwriting team who helped Saddam write. He says Saddam was deeply influenced by Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The dictator had a peculiar method: “He’d sit in his state room and recount simple tales, while his aides recorded his words.”

Other dictators to have tried their hand at literature include Muammar Gaddafi (Escape to Hell and Other Stories) and Kim Jong-Il, who wrote 1500 books as a university student.

For one writer, the novels speak volumes about dictatorship and its failings. US conservative Daniel Pipes, for whom Saddam Hussein was at one time an obsession, has written that hubris and ignorance are hallmarks of dictatorships. “Both these incapacities worsen with time and the tyrant becomes increasingly removed from reality. His whims, eccentricities and fantasies dominate state policy. The result is a pattern of monumental mistakes.” Or, as Guardian journalist Leo Benedictus put it, “No matter how powerful they become, it seems there is one thing that no despot can ever have: an honest editor.”

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