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Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators

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Inspired by newspaper clippings he had kept about two former African dictators accused of cannibalism, journalist Riccardo Orizio set out to track down tyrants around the world who had fallen from power―to see if they had gained any perspective on their actions, or if their lives and thoughts could shed any light on our own. The seven encounters chronicled in Talk of the Devil reveal Orizio's gift as an observer and his skill at getting people to reveal themselves. They are also, each of them, memorable stories in their own right. Thanks to his conversion to Islam, the unrepentant Idi Amin lives in exile in Saudi Arabia and laughs off his murderous past while still attempting to meddle in Uganda. Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the bloody former emperor of Central Africa, boasts astonishingly that Pope Paul VI had nominated him as the thirteenth apostle of the Catholic Church. Nexhmije Hoxha defends her husband's brutal Stalinist regime from her Albanian prison cell and proudly explains how it worked. Paris-based Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier―in his first interview since fleeing Haiti in 1986―speaks about voodoo and the women of his life, and laments the loss of his fortune. Colonel Mengistu Haile-Mariam of Ethiopia, Mira Markovic (Slobodan Milosevic's wife), and General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the former Polish head of state, all claim, in one way or another, that history will do them justice. By turns chilling and comical, rational and absurd, Talk of the Devil brings back into focus forgotten history and people we have viewed as evil incarnate. Stripped of their power and titles, they are oddly human, and in Orizio's hands, their stories, and his own, are compulsively readable.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2003

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Riccardo Orizio

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews
Profile Image for Osama.
369 reviews66 followers
May 11, 2017
كتاب حديث الشيطان يتألف من مقابلات مع سبعة طغاة للصحفي الإيطالي ريكاردو أوريزيو وترجمة عهد علي ديب. وفيه ينقل المؤلف معلومات ومواقف وأحداث تتعلق بحكام سابقين تم الإطاحة بهم نجوا من القتل وانتهوا الى الضياع وهم:
عيدي أمين - أوغندا
بوكاسا - أفريقيا الوسطى
ياروزلسكي - بولندا
أنور خوجا- ألبانيا
دوفالييه - هاييتي
منغستو هايلي مريم - أثيوبيا
ميلوزوفيتش - صرييا
الكتاب يتناول مواضيع تاريخية وإنسانية مثيرة للإهتمام ولكن أسلوب الكتابة مفكك غير مترابط في كثير من الأحيان، لم يعجبني كثيرا.
Profile Image for James.
297 reviews66 followers
October 26, 2007
This should be an interesting book, but the author lacks a talent for writing and mostly it was boring trivia.

Too much of the book was about the author getting the stories rather than about the dictators themselves.
Profile Image for le-trombone.
78 reviews
January 1, 2009
The book, simply enough, consists of seven interviews with seven former ruling dictators (in some cases ruling as a husband and wife pair). Each section lists the crimes they committed. The interviews are not chilling in and of themselves, in many cases Hannah Arendt's famous “banality of evil” phrase will run through your mind as you read them. But it is also frightening how people of such different backgrounds find the same reasons to steal, oppress, and kill.

Idi Amin Dada (Uganda) barely mentioned his ruling life at all, and was more interested in discussing his new toy, a satellite TV. Jean-Bedal Bokassa (Republic of Central Africa), deposed the same year as Amin, was obsessed with having been an emperor, and consequently being more important than “mere kings” and “simple presidents”. Wojciech Jaruzelski (Poland) is the odd one here. He saw no moral issues with his actions. In his view, it didn't matter if the government is wrong, disobedience is still treason. Nonetheless, he was the only one to express regrets. Enver and Nexhmije Hoxha (Albania) knew that they were the only ones who could save Albania from decadence, and Nexhmije was quite smug about factories that closed when democracy was instituted. Jean-Claude Duvalier (Haiti), like Enver Hoxha, gave a lot of control to his first lady (who set up her own foundation and siphoned off much of Haiti's money into it) and literally had himself made into a deity, changing the Lord's Prayer to use his nickname (“Our Doc”). Mengistu Haile-Meriam (Ethiopia) sent thousands to the firing squad as part of what he called the “Red Terror Campaign”. He modeled his secret service on East Germany's, and claimed that his actions were done “only because my country had to be saved from tribalism and feudalism”. Slobadon Milosevic and Mira Markovic (Serbia/Yugoslavia) were perhaps the most cynical of the lot. They clearly were not self-deluding, but made the usual excuses anyway. Mira Markovic was a sociologist, and during the interview gave rather cold-blooded reasons why their actions were credible, and proffered the excuse that it was their underlings, the little people, who went too far. They came to power on a nationalistic platform, lied about the enemies and at the time of their interview witnesses against them were mysteriously dying of handgun killings.

They had disparate backgrounds. They varied tremendously in their education, initial political power, and for that matter the types of their crimes differed (some used their power to amass wealth, while others saw control as their purpose and had little resources after they were overthrown), having only the common element of killing their citizens. If you are looking for a common trait in their biography, you won't find it here and I suspect that it's not there to be found. Only the common excuse laying the blame on their enemies is there. Sadly, that's also commonly found outside the circle of dictators.
Profile Image for محمد على عطية.
509 reviews401 followers
March 18, 2014
الرابط الذي يجمع بين كل الطغاة السابقين المذكورين في الكتاب, و الطغاة عبر التاريخ, و أيضاً الطغاة المعاصرين, الرابط هو القدرة على الإنكار حتى لوجود الشمس في وسط النهار
كل منهم يؤمن في قرارة نفسه أنه كان يفعل الأفضل لشعبه و بلده, حين يواجهون بما ارتكبوا من فظائع فأفضلهم حالاً يقول أنه لم يكن يملك خيارات أخرى, أما الأغلب فيهون من وقع هذه الجرائم و يقول: نعم, كان هناك (بعض) التجاوزرات الفردية...أما الأسوأ فهو من لم ير حتى هذه التجاوزات
تكاد تكون السمات النفسية واحدة لكل الطغاة...و هذه إحدى مزايا قراءة هذا الكتاب, فأنت حين تقرأه تعلم أنك لا تقرأ الماضي, و إنما تطالع الحاضر أيضاً
لعنة الله على كل ظالم, من سبق منهم و من لحق
Profile Image for Martin Koenigsberg.
764 reviews1 follower
October 19, 2018
As Americans are finding out in the Trump era, what stands out about Dictators and Strongman Wannabes is the shabbiness of their corruption and kleptocracy. And that's the word that stays with you the entire time as Riccardo Orizio seeks out and interviews seven toppled dictators of the 20th Century-Idi Amin, Emperor Bokassa of Central Africa, Nexhmije Hoxha(Enver Hoxha of Albania's wife), Baby Doc Duvalier, Mengistu of Ehtiopia, finishing with Mira Markovic (Slobodan Milosovic's wife) and Wojciech Jaruzelski of Yugoslavia and Poland respectively. In each case, as he hunts them down and interviews them, he tells you in long asides how much they are lying, dissembling and prevaricating as they tell their incredibly sanitized life stories. They are basically murderous lying scum, unable to come to terms with the reality of their falls from grace. Shabby.
I realised, I just made it sound like a vail of tears.... it's not at all. It's witty and funny, wonderful in that it relies on you to remember and rethink the history as it was lived and written. Well written, with a wonderful refusal to adhere strictly to the Cold War narrative as usually heard in the US, filling in a little more of the gray areas we did not always get back then. All these folks played east against west in some way or another- and were totally corrupt as they did so. Orizio delights in explaining the various kleptocratic schemes that enriched dictators. It's very illuminating, especially in light of recent events closer to home.
Some of the descriptions of torture and assaults may be too much for reader below the age of 14. Otherwise, its a great way to explain the dangers of single party politics to a youth. For the Gamer/modeller/Military Enthusiast, I can only think a few folks who delight in African/Eastern European "Coup" games will be able to apply some ideas directly, but for background, this is really interesting. For those who really want to understand how dictatorships and political violence works, the mechanics, I really think this is a wonderful survey of skullduggery on truly wholesale scales. A great read- but a challenging one. Makes you want to vote every chance you get!
Profile Image for Alastair Heffernan.
181 reviews20 followers
November 8, 2021
Talk of the Devil is an astonishing book. Each chapter describes author Riccardo Orizio and his discussions with former dictators. The range of dictators Orizio manages to speak to is impressive – Amin (Uganda), Bokassa (Central African Republic), Jaruzelski (Poland), Hoxha’s wife Nexhmije (Albania), Baby Doc Duvalier (Haiti), Mengistu (Ehtiopia) and Milosevic’s wife Mira (Yugoslavia / Serbia) – and you hear bits about all their reins and atrocities along the way. But a history lesson this book is not. It is, rather, a look at these larger-than-life individuals as they are today: sometimes diminished, often dismissive of their crimes but always portrayed by Orizio as humans despite their fame and ignominy. It is this ability to present such individuals as human, and begin to get at what makes them tick, that are among this book’s best features.

Where the book falters is in its consistency. The Amin chapter is wonderfully paced: the author describes the almost mystery-novel manner in which he gives the Saudi police the slip and somehow engineers a meeting with the former corporal. The meeting itself is fairly brief but there is real excitement to getting the interview in the first place. I feel this device should have been applied throughout: describe how an interview was arranged, then take us into what the person was like. Unfortunately, other chapters – such as the Duvalier one – begin mid-interview and attempt to reconstruct how author Orizio got there. It makes the book a bit of a confusing ride and some of the mystery and excitement the author could have generated with a more narrative approach is lost.

Despite this issue, the book is still a wonderful read – precisely because trying to find and get to speak to fallen strongmen and dictators is such a quixotic task. The book could have been longer and better structured in how it tells us about these journeys but, as one of few such books I know off and with such wonderful twists and turns (see the Hoxha chapter in particular), this is still essential reading. I just can’t help wish that Orizio had delivered something more detailed and impactful, given the incredible idea he had and the months of effort he expended in getting all these interviews.
Profile Image for Kirk Battle.
Author 13 books9 followers
December 4, 2013
Orizio travels to various countries and interviews fallen dictators with the only criteria being that they must be reduced to living as normal people. They cannot have retired into wealth. The subjects vary from men to women, puppets to tyrants, and a wide range of personalities. Some, like Idi Amin, come across as mostly insane or delusional. A case of the wrong kind of person being put into power. Others are good soldiers but bad leaders. Some obsess over the details of their crimes to meticulously prove that they did nothing wrong or had no choice.

There is plenty to take away from any of these encounters for a reader, be it the differences in gender or the economic backgrounds which define how the person struggles with power. By the time I finished the book, I did begin to understand that trying to pin all the blame for a mass murder or the destructive forces of nationalism on a single individual are overly simplistic. There are millions of supporters and bystanders to these actions, so much so that the dictator's claims that they were just doing what people wanted begins to haunt you.

Power does not discriminate in its effects. Though many of these people lie and distort their actions or knowledge, all of the people interviewed shared the same grim satisfaction with their accomplishments. As Orizio comments in his epilogue, many seem to stay alive just to see people miss them. I don't think anyone can take that from them.
Profile Image for Faten Ala'a.
176 reviews1 follower
April 9, 2015
كتاب جيد بشكل عام وهو عبارة عن لقاءات عقدها صحفي إيطالي مع سبعة شخصيات اعتبرها المؤلف من أهم الشخصيات الديكتاتورية - أو الطغاة كما اسماهم هو - في القرن الماضي .

ميزة الكتاب هو أنه يقدم الكثير من المعلومات التاريخية عن فترة حكم هؤلاء الطغاة وعن طبيعة الحكم في بلدانهم بشكل عام وكون هؤلاء الطغاة من بلدان مختلفة توزعت بين قارتي إفريقيا وأوروبا فإن هذا أضفى على الكتاب شيئاً من التنوع في المواضيع .

ولكن ومع ان فكرة هذه اللقاءات جميلة إلا أن أسلوب الكاتب - أو المترجم لا أدري على من يقع اللوم - ليس جذاباً أو أسراً مما قلل نوعاً ما من استمتاعي بالكتاب وربما يعود هذا لكون الكاتب هو صحفي وليس أديباً لا أدري .. ربما !!
ولكن على كل حال بعيداص عن المتعة أظنني استفدت أكثر وهذا جيد في كل الاحوال .
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,301 followers
Want to read
January 18, 2011
sometimes I need to read books that will teach me stuff, rather than my usual diet of pomo escapist lit.
Profile Image for Natanael.
10 reviews
June 6, 2017
(Después de tantos ensayos termino otro pendiente).
"El momento más dulce en la vida de un dictador puede ser cuando, tras triunfar la democracia, es derrocado, su nombre se vuelve miseria y terror, y mirar desde la distancia el crecimiento desengaño con el nuevo régimen".
Así es es como se realizan entrevistas a los dictadores más famosos del mundo. Desde la antigua Yugoslavia (Serbia, Albania), paseando por la República Centroafricana, Haití y Uganda.
Profile Image for Anna.
379 reviews16 followers
December 26, 2020
Almost all of these people are dead now as this book was written 20 years ago. I read it a long time ago but it turned out while it left a big impression on me I didn't remember very many specifics. They say all the things you'd expect them to say. the lack of remorse or any even "fog of war" type justifications is not surprising I guess but still pretty breathtaking.
Profile Image for Jonele.
213 reviews2 followers
June 19, 2018
This book presupposes you already know all of these people. You'd be better to read about each on their own first, then go to this book if you're really interested in the topic.
Profile Image for Luke.
137 reviews4 followers
March 22, 2020
The fact the author managed to get access to these people is amazing. Very insightful book.
Profile Image for Jeff.
Author 2 books10 followers
April 10, 2020
Interesting. Good writing, but light on analysis. No examination of “why?”
2 reviews
October 16, 2020
An interesting journalistic exercise that shows the similarities between these dispicable dictators. Rather fascinating. I wish I could have read it in its original Italian language to do it justice.
25 reviews7 followers
March 16, 2008
The author attempts to track down a host of former dictators and discover how they ended up. I was not quite sure what to make of this book. It is part travel book, part history, and part policy. Most of the rulers were products of the cold war, when the superpowers tolerated brutal dictatorships in the name of power politics. What proved to be so fascinating was how similar many of the dictators were. Many had strong wives who shared power, many still believed they were the rightful leader of their former country, and none had any guilt for what they had done. Each one was able to justify their acts using an array of twisted logic from "It never happened. all lies" to "I was better than the alternative" Most of the leaders were from Africa or Central Europe.

The story of how the author tracked down the former dictators was as interesting as the interviews themselves. His descriptions of the culture of the developing world was dead on. Despite being translated from Italian, the book ready easily, even the humor carried over well. I did not feel the book contained too much background material on each leader.

I would not call it an academic study, but it was an enjoyable read for any student of the cold war with a somewhat off-beat sense of humor. It proves that reality is always more interesting than fiction..I was amazed that so many of the dictators survived into old age
Profile Image for Jack O'sullivan.
14 reviews2 followers
July 16, 2014
Talk of the devil was a little disappointing. I was looking forward to reading it immensely, however I found the writing of low quality and the insight into the author's studied dictators, limited.
I was left feeling unfulfilled after each chapter/section. The Author's concept - examining dictators - is fantastic, however - excuse my petulance - failed to engage me.
Issues surrounding the rise and fall of dictators are
complicated, the author was, at best, facile in his explanations. I envisioned a book that would engulf me, and arouse feelings of enmity. Instead I languidly read through what felt like a bundle of facts - vaguely representing a story.
While acknowledging my above rant, the book is informative. I learnt a lot and, really, that is one of the driving forces behind reading (for me at least). I think my review is somewhat bias, because of my preceding expectations.
I would recommend this book as a fleeting account of recent dictators, without a true examination of the vexed complexities of a Dictatorship.
Profile Image for Amir Nasr.
22 reviews
December 27, 2015
عيدي أمين - دكتاتور اوغندا السابق في السبعينات - كان لقبه لما وصل الحكم "بيج دادي أو العملاق اللطيف الغير مؤذي"، لكنه بعدما قعد شوية في الحكم ومع فتنة السلطة اتحول لوحش، كان بيأمر التليفزيون انه يذيع اعدام خصومه على الهواء مباشرة ويقول "يجب أن يرتدوا ثيابا بيضاء حتى تصبح رؤية الدم اسهل".. وفي بعض الاشاعات بتقول انه كان بيأكل لحم معارضيه بعد العثور على بعض الجثث في تلاجه منزله.. ولما اتهم بالفساد - بعد الانقلاب عليه - لم ينكر ذلك ابداً وانما اجاب "ان ادارة دولة تشبه ادارة عمل تجاري ضخم اذ يتعين عليك ان تمنح نفسك راتبا لائقا"..

التاريخ بيقولنا ان الدكتاتور مع الوقت بيصدق نفسه ومع استمراره في الظلم من غير ما حد يقوله انه ظالم بينسى فعلا انه ظالم وبيبقى ظلم الناس عنده روتين يومي طبيعي زيه زي ان يسرح شعره او يغسل وشه.. علشان كده تلاقي ان ديننا بيأكد في الحديث الصحيح "افضل الجهاد كلمة حق عند سلطان جائر".. وبيحذر من تركه في الحديث "إذا رأيت أمتى تهاب أن تقول للظالم يا ظالم فقد تودع منها" يعني وجودهم زي عدمهم (اختلف العلماء على اسناد الحديث الأخير)
Profile Image for Claire Croxton.
22 reviews19 followers
November 27, 2011
Mr. Orizio is an Italian journalist who was able to interview seven dictators after they had been deposed and no longer lived in the countries they terrorized. It includes interviews with Uganda’s Idi Amin, the wife of Baby Doc Duvalier of Haiti, Serbian leaders Slobadan Milosevic and his wife, Mire Markovic, and Albanian leaders Enver and Nexhmije Hoxha.

What I find most disturbing about the interviews was how unrepentant the leaders were. The whole concept of “if you think you’re right, then you’re right” comes into play and it is horrific. I read the entire book thinking, “thank God, I live in the United States.”

A very thought-provoking book.

Profile Image for Christopher Roth.
Author 3 books34 followers
September 4, 2014
Stellar. Exactly the book I wanted to read (and I have particular interest because it is similar to, but not identical to, my own next book project). I particularly like the fact that the makes the really roundabout ways that he had to pursue to track these SOBs down part of the story. The Jaruzelski interview was especially interesting, and it makes one regard him more as someone who got sucked into a bureaucracy and lost his way morally, rather than someone like Emperor Bokassa, who was clearly mentally ill. And I was delighted to learn that Bokassa claims that Pope Paul VI secretly anointed him Christ's 13th apostle. Who knew!
Profile Image for K L McKinley.
14 reviews22 followers
September 8, 2015
I enjoyed the suspense he described in trying to find some of the subjects to interview.
It's kind of creepy to see how these infamous leaders came to power but probably just as interesting how they fell from that power.
I appreciated being able to see another side of their histories the local evening news and college text books often don't touch on to such depth.
There was one dictator I did stopped reading and moved to the next one because it seemed like the author was going on too long (the main reason why this isn't 4 stars), but overall it was an intriguing book I'd recommend to anyone interested in the dark corners of history.
Profile Image for Alejandra Reyes.
46 reviews4 followers
December 10, 2015
Excelente y terrorífico a la vez, ver la similitud entre los dictadores de distintos continentes y épocas es espeluznante. Las justificaciones y argumentos se repiten, la "necesidad técnica" de eliminar opositores, los "males menores" fruto de circunstancias históricas, autoproclamaciones de ser "hombre de orden" y justificaciones de tener que poner orden en el caos reinante por culpa de extremistas... Todos (y todas) dicen las mismas palabras. Al leer las historias se ve tan fácil llegar a ser gobernados por ese tipo de personas, incluso la mayoría de ellos después de algunos años que suavizan los horrores vuelven a ser opciones políticas, en resumen: no aprendemos nunca.
February 10, 2021
El oficio del periodista es duro. La aventura de ir en busca de personajes tan excéntricos como Big Daddy o Bokassa es para lo que vivimos, es fácil criticar desde fuera, y estoy de acuerdo que le faltó un poco más de rigor a los relatos de los dictadores e ir en busca de más; sin embargo, Riccardo ha cumplido con mostrarnos la psicología y el infame pensamiento con el que estos personajes creen que están haciendo un bien a la humanidad, ideologias que hasta hoy prevalecen en mandatarios y gobernadores de algunos paises. No pude dejar de pensar en que nuestro presidente, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, tiene un poco de cada uno de estos personajes.
Profile Image for Wendy.
920 reviews11 followers
January 14, 2012
Really interesting concept, peering into the lives of seven deposed dictators in exile (Uganda's Idi Amin; CAR's Bokassa; Poland's Jaruzelski; Albania's Enver and Nexhmije Hoxha; Haiti's "baby doc" Duvalier; Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile-Mariam; Serbia's Milosevic). Unfortunately, all the interesting insights come through a journalist who is as keen to call attention to his concept and journey as he is to the actual men and women he's examining. Made me realize how much I prefer reading Ryszard Kapuscinski for this type of thing.
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