The Weight of a Mustard Seed

I was reading Wendell Steavenson's The Weight of a Mustard Seed for a long, long time. I started it in February, when the lovely people at Harper Collins Canada sent me a copy. I finished it this past weekend. That's unusually long, even for me.

In the book Steavenson looks at the life of General Kamel Sachet, who served under Saddam Hussein. It's an interesting biography in that it's not really written the way most biographies are. It's not just a biography of Sachet, but it's also kind of about the Iraqi people in general. The ups and downs and general resilience of Sachet's life are mirrored in the many, many others that she speaks with.

I also thought that the writing style is also rather unusual for a biography. There was something very...literary about it. It was also, even more than usual, part biography but perhaps an even larger part history - the history of a people but centered around one central figure.

Unfortunately I found it difficult to stick with it for very long. Hmm, actually that's not entirely correct. When I was reading it I was perfectly content to be reading it. When I set it down and walked away from it I didn't feel it tugging at me to get back to it, which is partly why it took me so long to finish it.

I'll be perfectly frank, my knowledge of Iraq is almost minimal. I see stuff on the news. I remember when Operation Desert Storm started because they interrupted regularly scheduled programming to tell us (if you must know, it was during Doogie Howser - we had two channels, there wasn't a whole lot of choice of what to watch). I know bits and pieces that all add up to not a whole heck of a lot.

What I got from this was a reminder that not everything, or everyone is all black and white. Not a person, not a country, not a war. There are layers upon layers that we don't see until we start pulling them back. Things can go from one extreme to another within a generation, or under certain conditions even less.

There's also the reminder that we can ask and ask how come people don't stand up things that they think are wrong. Or how people tolerate. There's never one answer. Sometimes there isn't any answer.

It really wasn't a book that I'd "normally" read. Most of my non-fiction is usually around women's issues or one of the two world wars. I think it was good to push out from my own self-imposed boundaries.

Thanks Harper Collins Canada for sending me this one (and I'm sorry it took me so long to finish it...).  You can browse inside the book on the Harper Collins webpage. And kudos to your art department because I really love the cover.

Disclaimer: Harper Collins Canada provided me with an advance copy of this book. This was an uncompensated review.