Oeuvre: Erotic allegorical fiction
While the United States was planning and executing an invasion of his country, Saddam Hussein spent the final weeks before the war working on a plot of his own -- a historical novel describing an ancient tribe repelling an attack from foreign invaders. It would have been the capstone in a remarkable literary career. Saddam's debut novel, Zabiba and the King, was published in 2000 and was followed by three more novels: The Fortified Castle (2001), Men and the City (2002), and Devil's Dance, the book supposedly completed just one day before the U.S. invasion and, smuggled out of Iraq by one of Saddam's daughters. The novels were popular in Iraq (though perhaps not by choice), and the last one has even been translated into Japanese.
Zabiba and the King, the first novel, was released anonymously, but critics quickly fingered Saddam (or, at least, his ghostwriters) as the probable author. It became a bestseller, with lavish praise from the Iraqi press. The Iraqi National Theater even produced a musical based on the novel, promoted as the country's "biggest production ever."
The novel is an allegorical love story, set in Arabian Nights-era Iraq, about a beautiful woman, Zabiba, who falls madly in love with a king named Arab and then teaches him about Islam and how to run a country. Zabiba's abusive husband is supposed to represent the predatory United States invading and pillaging an innocent Iraq. Not so coincidently, King Arab and his creator share the same birthplace, Tikrit.
Saddam's literary prowess is shadowed by his stilted prose, a fondness for profanity, and blatant attempts to use his political enemies as the central villains of his stories. According to the Guardian, the English translation contains repeated uses of the word "asshole" to describe the evil husband. It also features a bizarre bestiality sex scene:
Even an animal respects a man's desire, if it wants to copulate with him. Doesn't a female bear try to please a herdsman when she drags him into the mountains as it happens in the North of Iraq? She drags him into her den, so that he, obeying her desire, would copulate with her? Doesn't she bring him nuts, gathering them from the trees or picking them from the bushes? Doesn't she climb into the houses of farmers in order to steal some cheese, nuts and even raisins, so that she can feed the man and awake in him the desire to have her?
The book's English translator believes the bear is supposed to represent Russia.
Now, thanks to British satirist and actor Sacha Baron Cohen, of Borat fame, Hollywood will soon release an adaptation of Zabiba and the King, with Cohen in the role of King Arab. The Dictator is due out in May 2012, billed as "the heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed."
Saddam's writing career didn't end with the U.S. invasion. He continued to compose poetry from his Baghdad prison cell after he was sentenced to death. His poem "Unbind It" is believed to contain his last written words:
All people, we never let you down
And in catastrophes, our party is the leader.
I sacrifice my soul for you and for our nation
Blood is cheap in hard times
We never kneel or bend when attacking
But we even treat our enemy with honor…