Dictator: Muammar al-Qaddafi
Oeuvre: Hallucinogenic stream of consciousness
When it comes to literary ventures, embattled Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is best known for his 1975 political treatise the Green Book, which lays out the foundation for Libya's jamahiriya system of government and is supposed to be required reading for all Libyans. But for those looking for additional insight into the dictator's mind, his follow-up publication, Escape to Hell, is the way to go -- if you can get past the incoherent stream-of-consciousness prose, described by one reviewer as "a lump of uneven, partially digested literary cud."
Escape to Hell is billed as a collection of short stories and essays, but most readers have found it lacking even the basic ingredients of plot or content. One of the most bizarre stories is called "The Astronaut's Suicide." It tells the story of an astronaut who returns to Earth from a long stay in space, finds he can't adjust to normal life, and kills himself. It's meant to be a children's book. Another piece titled "Stop Fasting When You See the New Moon" both praises and derides Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's proclamation about when Ramadan would occur for allied Islamic forces during the first Gulf War (a decision traditionally left to Islamic scholars).
Some themes do emerge from the mess. Qaddafi rages against urban decay and Islamic fundamentalism. Reviewers have noted how "environmentalism, tradition and enlightened interdependence are high on his list of virtues," especially in his yarns on the beauty of Bedouin life in the desert. He really does hate the city, though:
This is the city: a mill that grinds down its inhabitants, a nightmare to its builders. It forces you to change your appearance and replace your values; you take on an urban personality, which has no colour or taste to it.... The city forces you to hear the sounds of others whom you are not addressing. You are forced to inhale their very breaths.... Children are worse off than adults. They move from darkness to darkness.... Houses are not homes -- they are holes and caves...
Yesterday a young boy was run over in that street, where he was playing. Last year a speeding vehicle hit a little girl crossing the street, tearing her body apart. They gathered up her limbs in her mother's dress. Another child was kidnapped by professional criminals. After a few days, they released her in front of her home, after they had stolen one of her kidneys! Another boy was put into a cardboard box by the neighbourhood boys in a game, but was run over accidentally by a car.
No wonder he prefers staying in tents in the desert.
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