Not only are Kim of Reading Matters and myself two of the hosts of NTTVBG, we are also the two founding member of the Riverside Readers who meet on the Southbank last night. After choosing a wonderful book for the last NTTVBG meeting Kim went and did it again for book group with ‘The Weight of a Mustard Seed’ by Wendell Steavenson, which caused some great discussion not only about what we had read but also about several themes of modern times it brought to the forefronts of our minds.
I have to say that if it wasn’t for this being a book group choice then I don’t think in all honesty I would have read or even heard of ‘The Weight of a Mustard Seed’. I might have been intrigued by the title and quite possibly the delightful cover (it’s the materialist in me) but the genre would have put me off as I am not the biggest fan of non fiction. What’s more the blurb hinted that this was a tale of a General who worked for Saddam Hussein during his dictatorship of Iraq and the aftermath, which I wouldn’t have thought would have been my sort of book at all.
I have to say I think that ‘The Weight of a Mustard Seed’ has to be one of the most interesting, engaging, horrifying and moving non fiction books that I have ever read. Although Wendell does indeed spend a lot of time with and writing about General Kamel Sachet and his family this is a book that actually tells of the history of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, how he controlled the people he did (whilst also oddly humanising him from time to time), how fear can rule any man and how the country has been left since. The latter for me was actually one of the most shocking parts of the book.
I did have a few small qualms with the book and these are small ones. Despite Wendell being incredibly good at engaging the reader and making you read on I did think that on occasion question her motives, find her slightly patronising now and again and thought she expected you to know more of the history of Iraq than I did, however most people who would go to read this would know a lot (there is of course always google) which occasionally made things a little confusing for me as the book isn’t always in chronological order.
Having said all that it’s a minor criticism and I do believe you have to work at some books and I do think that Wendell was trying to make the point that it didn’t matter when the atrocities and conflicts happened it’s the how and the why she was illustrating to the reader and that is the power of this book. It’s real, it’s difficult and it’s happening still right as you read this, that leaves you both moved and with a lot to think about.
This book showed me that not only do I need to occasionally judge a book by its cover I also need to let my bookish boundaries down sometimes. I started out thinking that I wouldn’t enjoy this and then became moved in a way I never thought a non fiction book could do. If I marked books out of ten this would get a ten out of ten for non fiction and eight out of ten for a book in general, one to definitely give a try. I need to find more non fiction books like this… any recommendations?