Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: The Devil's Double

Title: Devil’s Double
Author: Latif Yahia
Publisher: Arrow Books
ISBN: 0099465558

We’ve all read and heard stories about the brutality and excesses of Saddam Hussein and his regime. His eldest son, Uday , in particular had the reputation for being as bad as, if not worse than his father.
The author, Latif Yahia was the son of a well-to-do Baghdad businessman who attended school with Uday Hussein. They were born within days of each other and bore a strong resemblance to one another. In 1987 while Yahia was serving in the army he was plucked from the front line and taken to meet Uday Hussein where he was told he was being afforded a great honour; an honour he couldn’t refuse. He was to become Uday’s “fiday”, his serf and double. Yahia underwent painful plastic and dental surgery and spent months being forced to copy and perfect Uday’sspeech patterns and every gesture.
THE DEVIL’SDOUBLE bears witness to some of the things that went on inside the heavily guarded compound in which Saddam and his family spent much of their time.
Uday was taken to see his first execution at the age of six and watched people being tortured at age ten. His unrestrained appetite for sex and violence appears to have been the inevitable consequence of a life led without any boundaries or consequences whatsoever. Is it any wonder he became such a monster?
It’s a little difficult to know what to make of Latif Yahia and his story. He claims to have witnessed some dreadfu latrocities, which appear to have been a part of every day life for the Hussein clan, and much of the book is devoted toYahia registering his disgust at the things he saw. However, there does appear to be a great deal of self-justification going on. Yahia describes the invasion of Kuwait and how the Husseins used that invasion to loot as much as they could. He tells of Uday assembling three teams of twenty men each assigned to ransack the country. One team was responsible for “requisitioning”as many up-market European cars as they could, another electrical goods and athird was to take over villas and large houses for use of the new “government”in Kuwait. This little enterprise garnered Uday $125 million from the sale of cars alone. Yahia condemns this , but at the same time admits to having taken some cars himself to line his own pockets.
The book itself is not particularly well written. At times there seems to be a slight overuse of adjectives that don’t always fit. I felt it could have benefited from tighter editing. However, that weakness is over-ridden by the stories Yahia has to tell. Some of them almost defy belief.
If Uday saw something he wanted he’d just take it. Everything from cars to women. There is one horrifying story about him seeing a pair of newly weds and deciding he wanted the wife. The husband, an officer in the Iraqi army who had served for ten years was on leave from the front. They had been married just one day. The husband was restrained and beaten, the wife dragged screaming to Uday’s hotel room. When she resisted his advances he beat her until she was bleeding badly and then raped her. He left the room and the woman feeling too shamed to live, committed suicide by jumping from the sixth floor window. The husband, beside himself with grief tried to attack Uday in the hotel foyer. He was arrested, charged with “insulting the president”and executed a few days later. Just another day in the life of Uday Hussein.

Uday owned hundreds of cars and thousands of suits. He even banned the importation of Ferraris into Iraq so that he would bethe only person to own them. Such wasthe power of the Husseins in Iraq that not even witnesses held back Uday. At a party one day his father’sofficial food taster incurred his wrath so he killed him with an electricknife, in front of tall the guests, including wife of the President of Egypt.
Yahir escaped the country to tell his tale.To be honest, this particular yarn seems a little too far-fetched nto be plausible. It did damage his Yahia's credibility somewhat for me. Just how much of it is completely true is perhaps open for debate but there is no doubt that THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE is jaw-dropping at times.

THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE has been recently made into a movie, starring Dominic Cooper as both Uday and Latif Yahir and Philip Quast as Saddam.
Links: The DevilsDouble – book
Further reading: