This is a collection of six short stories each focusing on a different 20th-century dictator, offering a brief glimpse of an imagined moment in his childhood or young adulthood, skilfully capturing the unique voice of each protagonist.
I have to admit that I had limited knowledge on quite a few of these infamous dictators (Idi Amin, Pol Pot and Rafael Trujilio in particular) so part of my enjoyment was to search for them on Wikipedia before reading their stories.
Firstly, this helped me to put things into context, secondly to broaden my (clearly embarrassing) knowledge and lastly understand what was factual and what was embroidered on by the author – this is a work of speculative fiction after all.
Overall these stories were dominated by typical teenage angst however the author was able to subtly inject something unique viewpoints and twisted into each telling without outright showing you the pivotal moment when they turned into monsters
Its always difficult to rate short stories so I will let the math decide:
1) Idi Amin - 4 stars
This captured the unique voice of an African boy so expertly I find it hard to believe this is not exactly how things played out
2) Pol Pot - 2 stars
A speculative shap shot of the man who came to be the monster that started the Vietnam war which left me underwhelmed.
3) Chairman Mao - 4 stars
Forced into an arranged marriage at 14, never acknowledging its validity later in life (fact) set the stage expertly of what was to come once this madman came into power
4) Josef Stalin - 3 stars
This story portrayed the collective angst of overzealous boys in a strict seminary environment, making covert talk of revolution too tempting to ignore. It suggests that if Josef Stalin didn’t rise to power someone else would have stepped up in his place.
5) Rafael Trujilio - 3 stars
Portrayed as a deeply disturbed boy with OCD and overly obsessed about hiding his Latino skin colour.
6) Hitler - 3 stars
I expected a bit more from this one as he is the most infamous monster of them all. I found more resonance with the movie Max as a portrayal of Hitler’s early life as a struggling (read talentless) artist than this story.
The voices of Idi Amin, Chairman Mao and Josef Stalin felt closest to the truth than the others however I suspect that this sentiment is purely personal.