The Tyrant's Novel Essay - Critical Essays

Thomas Keneally

The Tyrant’s Novel

Set in an undisclosed detention camp, Alan Sheriff is unable to claim political asylum in his host country, and unable to return to his homeland. During his detention he develops a relationship with a writer, and shares his autobiography which is “the saddest and silliest story you have ever heard.”

A one time internationally prominent author, Sheriff’s life crashes down around him with the sudden death of his young wife, and his unwelcome employment as a ghost writer for the country’s dictator. Sheriff’s country, a Middle Eastern ally turned enemy of the United States, suffers heavily under U. S. sanctions and a corrupt dictatorship. The Tyrant, Great Uncle, learns of Sheriff’s literary talents and enlists him to write the nation’s saga. In doing so, it is hoped that the country’s devastation will illicit international outrage, forcing the U. S. to lift its sanctions. Great Uncle gives Sheriff one month to write eighty thousand words, stationing guards around his house twenty-four hours a day.

The novel is so well received by Great Uncle, that he adopts Alan Sheriff as his staff writer, with perks that include his own palace, car and driver, and security. Of course this also means he surrenders all personal freedom and artistic integrity. Feeling he has nothing to live for, he arranges to be smuggled out of the country in an oil drum. In pleading asylum, he ends up a different sort of prisoner.

Review Sources

Booklist 100, no. 18 (May 15, 2004): 1579.

Entertainment Weekly, June 4, 2004, p. 87.

Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 8 (April 15, 2004): 350.

Library Journal 129, no. 13 (August 15, 2004): 68.

Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2004, p. R5.

The New Leader 87, no. 4 (July/August, 2004): 31.

New Statesman 133 (March 1, 2004): 54.

The New York Times, June 17, 2004, p. 1.

The New York Times Book Review 153 (July 18, 2004): 11.

Publishers Weekly 251, no. 21 (May 25, 2004): 42.

Time 163, no. 24 (June 14, 2004): 83.