The Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2001
Get Them Rewrite—Please
By Bruce Kluger and David Slavin
Last week, The New York Times reported that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein may
have secretly authored that nation's popular allegorical novel, Zabibah wal Malik
("Zabibah and the King"). Although still under investigation by the CIA, the story has
sparked interest among historical scholars and literary sleuths, for whom one
question remains: If indeed the cantankerous tyrant did produce his own version of
a Harlequin romance, what other best-selling books could have flowed from the
inkwells of history's most famous—and infamous—leaders?
Gandhi With the Wind: Penned under the nom de plume P.J. Mohandas, this
sweeping epic by the former spiritual leader of India imaginatively blends the
political volatility of Colonial Calcutta with the splendor of antebellum Atlanta.
Despite its vivid characters (Scarlett O'Hindu, Mahatma Mammy) and evocative
imagery (e.g., "The night air was thick with bougainvillea and vindaloo"), the book
was withdrawn from circulation when the estate of author Margaret Mitchell sued its
publishers for plagiarism. Chief among the heirs' complaints: a passage in which
Gandhi, fresh from his legendary fast, defiantly proclaims to the heavens: "As
Vishnu is my witness, I'll never go hungry again!"
A Short Guy's Guide to a Happy Life: Three-hundred years before Anna Quindlen
discovered the key to inner peace, diminutive French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
offered up his own pithy prescriptions for day-to-day contentment, trotting out
nuggets of indispensable wisdom such as, "If you have to go to Elba, remember to
pack a bathing suit" and "When all else fails, wear a really big hat." Although wildly
popular among the French common folk, the author failed to capture the same
enthusiasm with his sequel, Who Moved Mon Fromage?
Valley of the Dalai Lamas: Sometimes even the holiest of holies can't resist the
literary lure of sex, drugs and sitar music. In this revisionist account of his life, the
exiled Tibetan leader and his peripatetic posse of Buddhist monks decide to put the
"L.A." in Lama and head for the San Fernando Valley. Calamity abounds, as the
14th incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion descends on Hollywood,
introducing jaded studio executives to spiritual enlightenment and the all-weather
comfort of diaphanous robes. Richard Gere makes a cameo in the hilarious juice
Thatcher in the Rye: This provocative coming-of-ager by England's Iron Lady,
Margaret Thatcher, recounts the adolescent angst of a British shopkeeper's
daughter who, having been expelled from Oxford, eschews her mundane existence
in search of more meaningful pursuits—like invading small defenseless islands.
Despite the heroine's perpetual vilification of "phonies," she ironically develops a
secret schoolgirl crush on a certain Hollywood star with political aspirations.
Arrivederci, Columbus: After more than 500 years of conjecture about the
relationship between Spain's Queen Isabella I and explorer Christopher Columbus,
the monarch herself sets the record straight in this recently unearthed roman a clef
about a spoiled little rich girl's doomed romance with the boy from the other side of
the palazzo who just wants to "see the world." Reached for comment about the
similarity between the book's plotline and that of his own similarly titled 1959
novella, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Roth perplexedly remarks: "Funny, they
didn't look Jewish."
Communism for Dummies: A half-century ahead of its time, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's
entertainingly digestible guide to collective governing was an instant best-seller in
1917, earning such critical praise as "Marx in a nutshell" and "a must for every
Bolshevik's nightstand." The book also went on to spawn a flock of sequels, notably
Brutality for Dummies (Joseph Stalin, 1936), Shoe-Banging for Dummies (Nikita
Khrushchev, 1962) and Shilling for Pepsi for Dummies (Mikhail Gorbachev, 1994).
Green Eggs and 'Nam: This little known 1968 children's book written by North
Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh cleverly combined political didacticism with alphabet
fundamentals in such rhythmically engaging passages as:
"I would not bow to JFK
I would not trust the USA
The CIA is not OK
The same holds true for LBJ."
Regrettably, the Communist ruler died in 1969 without completing the book's
sequel, Horton Hears a Coup.
Ariel is From Mars, Yasir is From Venus: Authors' contracts still in negotiation.