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The Tyrant's Novel Paperback – 27 Sep 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; New Ed edition (27 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034082526X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340825266
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 371,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

In a long and distinguished career, Thomas Keneally has produced many first-rate novels, written with a total command of narrative and immense sympathy for the human condition. If The Tyrant's Novel doesn't initially appear to boast the power of such Keneally classics as Schindler's Ark patience should be utilised: in fact, the cumulative effect here is as persuasive as anything Keneally has given us.

Alan Sheriff has enjoyed the spoils of the life of a successful writer and his decision as to where he should continue to reside is curious. This land (unnamed by Keneally) is a Middle Eastern state, suffering under the heel of a murderous tyrant (no prizes for guessing the inspiration here), known by the sobriquet Great Uncle. And as a lengthy and bloody war with a neighbouring country destroys the lives of the people, Sheriff (unlike most of his fellow intellectuals) declines to leave--even when American sanctions cause further woe for the "Great Uncle's" benighted people. By a strange twist of fate, Alan is ultimately forced to meet the tyrant; his life changes irrevocably when the despot puts a proposition to him--one that will test the limits of his conscience, his courage and his humanity.

If Schindler's Ark is the yardstick by which all Keneally's subsequent work is judged, he may finally have written another novel to rival that masterpiece, even though this is a much less ambitious piece of work. The real-life model for the author's tyrant is a hard figure to match in fiction, but Keneally performs a remarkable job, and his Arabic hero is characterised with intelligence and sympathy. There are revelations here that transform this novel into something more surprising than the reader might initially realise, and recent history has given the narrative new relevance. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Light, relevant, snappy, well paced, subtly structured, unlaboured and interestingly shaded. It has political credentials but wears them lightly, serious characters but sketches them with humour ... And the details aren't extrapolations from current events - they are current events. Just in case you happened to have forgotten. (Jim Flint (author of HABITAS), Zembla)

Brutal, chilling and moving ... This is thrilling stuff (The Australian)

Remarkable ... Here is Keneally at his polemic best and fairest ... it rings - or tolls - like a bell. (Adelaide Advertiser)

This crisp, smart new novel - his most accomplished recent work - is particularly timely...Keneally, a consummate storyteller, particularly in recent years, has often relied on tight, suspenseful plots to articulate his concerns. That skill is fully evident in this new book. For that reason, I do not wish to spoil the pleasure many readers will experience as they follow the twists and turns of a tale told with an appealing economy (Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald)

It shows why Australia needs writers such as Keneally more than ever before. (Melbourne Age)

You won't put it down (Courier Mail)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 21 Nov 2004
Format: Paperback
Allan Sheriff, circled by wire in a desolate place, has a story to tell. Actually, he has two stories: one, his own, describing the life of a writer in Hussein's Baghdad and the other with the same theme. The difference is that the first tells the story of the second. Why is Sheriff fenced in at a remote location of almost indescribeable desolation? What abominable crime has put him there? In answering these questions, Thomas Keneally has returned to the top rank of novelists. He excels again with this modern tale of international politics, survival in an oppressive regime, and personal tragedy. This is among the finest of Keneally's works.
Sheriff, a reputable writer, is recruited by Iraq's Great Uncle to post a message to the world. The "sanctions" imposed by the victors of the First Gulf War have brought poverty, lack of food and water and depleted medical facilities to their country. The whims of an arbitrary government, the absolutist nature of the leaders - already a dynasty in the making, and needless casualties from a meaningless war are minimal when contrasted to the universal suffering caused by curtailment of the oil exports. Great Uncle wants Sheriff to expose this injustice through a novel depicting conditions. Sheriff, who might have been willing and able to perform this feat, is afflicted by a more personal crisis - the loss of his wife Sarah.
"Alan"? "Sarah"? This couple is close friends with Matt McBrien and Andrew Kennedy. Are these names typical of a Middle Eastern people? Keneally deftly arabesques away from pigeon-holing these people and their circumstances as "Arabs" or even Muslims.
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Format: Paperback
Prolific, celebrated Australian novelist Thomas Keneally is in fine form with this intelligent and thought-provoking novel of the dilemmas and dangers facing a writer that comes under the special attention of a despotic ruler.
'The Tyrant's Novel' opens in one of the 'double-walled gulags' in the desert towns and suburbs of an unidentified country. Imprisoned within this fortress we find the novel's protagonist, Alan Sheriff, who recounts his tale of life and escape from another unnamed country that is under the grip of 'Great Uncle', a country that recently had a protracted conflict with the 'Others' and is currently straining under international sanctions. Whilst it is not difficult to unmask the countries in the contemporary international context, one of the great strengths of Keneally's novel is that the issues raised are translatable to any artist working in a state that represses freedom of expression.
It is easy to empathise with Alan, and other characters such as Matt McBrien whose survival hinges on the protagonist's decisions, in this finely crafted and extremely readable political novel. My only minor reservation - and hence the four star rating, rather than a maximum five - is that ultimately the novel appealed more to my head than my heart: I suspect that I felt somewhat emotionally detached from the characters because Anglo-Celtic names are used for them despite the novel being set in the Middle East. Whilst Keneally deliberately chose this nomenclature so that Western readers will perceive them as ordinary people in the street, it unfortunately made the characters less real and, ironically, limited rather than enhanced my emotional involvement in their plight.
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Format: Hardcover
In this novel within a novel, Australian author Thomas Keneally returns to the political themes which won him prizes for The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Voices from the Forest, and Schindler's Ark. Keneally has always been at his best depicting ordinary people facing extraordinary pressures, especially from governments bent on totalitarian rule, and this contemporary allegory is no exception. Taking place in an unnamed oil-rich country in the Middle East ruled by a tyrant who calls himself Great Uncle, the novel centers on Alan Sheriff, a short story writer given one month to write an "autobiographical novel" for which Great Uncle will take full credit. Sheriff, we learn in the opening chapter, is telling his story to a western journalist from a detention camp in an unnamed desert country, where he has languished for three years.
Keneally increases the impact and universality of the story through his clever use of names. As Alan Sheriff tells the journalist, it is important for his credibility that he be like a man you'd meet on the street, which is much easier with a name like Alan-"not, God help us, Said and Osama and Saleh. If we had Mac instead of Ibn." Alan believes his "saddest and silliest story" will interest Americans, despite the fact that his country and the US are now enemies.
Through Alan's story, the reader meets Mrs. Douglas, whose nephew, not careful enough of the pH level of Great Uncle's swimming pool, was shot and hanged from the ramparts; Mrs. Carter, whose son has been missing for six years; Alan's beloved wife, Sarah Manners, an actress who has become unemployable; Matt McBride, another writer who becomes head of the Cultural Commission where he works for Great Uncle; and Louise James, an American who would like to get Sheriff to come to Texas as a visiting professor.
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