Saddam City is a slim but powerful work. Set in 1979, it follows the bewildering journey of Mustafa Ali Noman through Iraq’s Saddam-era jail system. Noman (the name is intentionally informative) is arrested but not told why before being transported from city to city and jail to jail. In each jail he meets a variety of prisoners, guards and torturers, and through their stories, attempts to draw a picture of the brutality of life in Iraq under Saddam.
I liked Saddam City a lot. The author spent time in jails on six occassions, and has clearly drawn on his experience. He captures the absurdity of the prisoner’s stories very well, documenting ‘crimes’ such as having a relative abroad or commenting on the leader in public. The narration is straightforward, without embellishment, lending it a similar tone to One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, which made it both mundane and powerful. Despite the subject matter (torture, execution, etc.) it is the sheer absurdity of the men’s situation that shines through, giving the book an almost surreal edge, in spite of the down to earth telling of the story. All in all, this was disturbing yet readable look at the security apparatus of Saddam’s Iraq seen from the inside.
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