great story-within-a-story that humanises the forgotten faces behind asylum-seeker statistics without resorting to sentimentality or two-dimensional characters, not an easy task.Greta Roussos
Reading about Tyrant's sweetens my enjoyment of freedom. As always, Keneally writes an interesting, unusual story with strong emotional impact. Near perfect.Mike Finn
Excellent novel about living in a Middle East tyranny.Denise Drespling
Minus whatever political agenda it may have, for me, this book was a tale of a man who has suffered, been faced with extreme decisions, and suffered some more. It is an emotional journey, captivating and brought forth by a writer with great skill. Keneally has a way of showing deep emotion without making it overly dramatic. Instead, his characters suffer quietly, but realistically. I can imagine that people in other countries, not so lucky as ours to be free, face situations like this. I can't wait to read Schindler's Ark (List) next!Noel
Keneally writes a novel which is all about the fate of intellectuals and artists in Iraq in the UN sanctions period. He then saddles himself with two very awkward conventions which do the book no favours at all. First, I guess if you're writing about a contemporary government, you cloak the country's real name and change all the names of the towns and rivers and so forth. Maybe this is to avoid the lawyers or an icepick in the back of the head. The ghost of Salman Rushdie must appear to writers at this point. So Saddam Hussain is called Great Uncle throughout. But furthermore, Keneally gives all his Iraqis Western names, such as Peter Collins, Matt McCloud, Sarah, Bernie, Alan Sheriff, and so on. This is because he wants to remove the otherness from his characters. "I would very much like to be the man you meet in the street. A man with a name like Alan. If we all had good Anglo-Saxon names...or if we were not, God help us, Said and Osmaa and Saleh. If we had Mac instead of Ibn." Thus says the narrator right at the beginning. This device, well-intentioned as it may be, unfortunately turns out to have the opposite effect. The Western reader is alienated even more from the peculiar situations and melodramatic twists and turns because stuff like this doesn't remotely happen in Western countries. (Stuff like visiting your country's supreme leader who could at any moment pull out a revolver and shoot you, and being forced to dress in a sterile surgeon's suit for the interview because of Great Uncle's health paranoia). So this naming convention saps a lot of the reality out of the whole thing. But even so, this novel reads like a cerebral exercise anyway, all about a guy who is given (by Saddam) an impossible deadline to write a novel exposing the Western sanctions as pointless and inhumane, and whilst the guy agrees with this argument he hates Saddam (naturally) and wants nothing to do with helping him, and conflicted loyalties and artistic compromise and blah blah blah. Oh, and the most beautiful woman in Iraq being the narrator's wife, and the second most beautiful woman in Iraq proposing to the narrator once the other one dies. And blah blah blah. I mean, really.