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Playing Atari With Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story

Review

Playing Atari With Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story

Ali Fadhil loves video games and comic books. He enjoys playing soccer with his siblings and other children in his neighborhood. School is isn’t his favorite place to be, but he loves his English class. He is finally enjoying his first war-free memories in the city of Basra, Iraq, when the first Gulf War starts. Then everything changes again.

PLAYING ATARI WITH SADDAM HUSSEIN by Jennifer Roy with Ali Fadhil follows Ali’s experience during the war. It based on the real-life experiences of Ali Fahil, who later became an interpreter working for the U.S. State Department and immigrated to the United States.

"By telling Ali’s story day by day, Roy builds the tension of the war as well as how Ali is coping with it....Roy also writes about war in a way that’s accessible to children…."

The book mostly separates chapters by each day as Ali recounts his experiences. The family --- Ali, his two brothers, one sister and parents --- all start sleeping in his older brother Shirzad’s bedroom, which has been designated as the family’s safe room. Iraqis knew that the war was coming after their leader Saddam Hussein refused to pull back his invasion of Kuwait by the deadline set by the United Nations. When this passes, Iraqis know that war is imminent.

 

The war is hard on each member of Ali’s family. His father, a dentist, gets recalled for army duty to be a medic and is often gone for days. His mother can’t teach math at the university and the kids can’t go to school. With Basra’s location near the Kuwait border, the bombing is fierce. The family spends their nights together hoping that a bomb doesn’t fall and destroy their home. As time goes on and rations lessen, food is harder to come by. Utilities are out and debris fill the streets.

As the war goes on, Ali becomes increasingly pessimistic about the opportunity for peace. He witnesses one of his mother’s colleagues get arrested. He is often worried about his father, who is gone for days on end, location unknown. When Ali’s father is away, his brother Shirzad is named man of the house and the two clash with the additional pressure put on them.

Ali still has moments of joy through playing soccer with his friends or looking at his comic book collection. But there’s a pervasive fear that increases through his interactions. His joyful demeanor darkens, as do those of his siblings. While Ali was alive during the Iraq and Iran war, because he is older now and has known peace, the Gulf War affects him differently.

By telling Ali’s story day by day, Roy builds the tension of the war as well as how Ali is coping with it. His thoughts become darker and his anger toward his country’s leader fiercer. He is forced to speed through his adolescence and confront some very adult issues, including some such as food scarcity or being bombed that adults in other countries have never had to address. When the war finally comes to an end, Ali is a different person than he was when it began.

Roy also writes about war in a way that’s accessible to children, whose only familiarity with the subject might be on TV or the internet. Through Ali’s love of comic books, video games and soccer, children can relate to him through his interests. Because of this pre-established connection, as the war progresses, it’s easier to relate to Ali. He’s not just a kid living in a war-torn country. He’s a kid just like them who is living through this.

Reviewed by Liz Sauchelli on March 26, 2018

Playing Atari With Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story
by Jennifer Roy and Ali Fadhil