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The death and life of Saddam’s soldier

Wendell Steavenson's new book is remarkable for the way it grapples with the problem of evil: by letting its victims and perpetrators tell their own stories

By Neal Ascherson   March 2009

The Weight of a Mustard Seed By Wendell Steavenson (Atlantic Books, £14.99)

Those with loud opinions, especially in Britain and America, like to believe that evil is done by evil people. When this is shown to be an unreliable rule, they panic. Recent examples abound. The film The Lives of Others, picturing a Stasi officer who grows complicit with those he spies on, was denounced on the grounds that only pinko “Ostalgiacs” could imagine a Stasi man with a human streak. Another film, The Reader—along with the bleak novel by Bernhard Schlink that inspired it—is desperately assailed for suggesting that…

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