In This Review

The Rope
The Rope
By Kanan Makiya
Pantheon, 2016, 336 pp

“I am the distillation of 5,000 years of your history,” the deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, declares to two Shiite guards as he awaits his execution by hanging in 2006, in Makiya’s fictionalized account of what took place at the gallows. One of those guards is the protagonist of Makiya’s novel, a beautifully written cri de coeur that takes place in the years following the U.S. invasion in 2003, of which Makiya was an early and vocal proponent. The book’s young hero, a follower of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, witnesses the wreckage wreaked by every group of Iraqis, but particularly by his fellow Shiites, many of whom had a chance to build a different Iraq but succumbed to deceit, greed, and treachery. (The occupying Americans were doubtless guilty of stupidity but not of masterminding the debacle that followed the invasion.) At the novel’s heart are the deaths of a father and a son. The revered Ayatollah Abul Qasim al-Khoei died in 1992 while imprisoned by Saddam; his son Abdul Majid al-Khoei was murdered in 2003, allegedly at the behest of Sadr, who saw him as a rival. Their specters haunt the lives of the protagonist’s family and close friends, one of whom becomes a killer of Sunnis whose preferred weapon is a power drill.