ONE Reads This Clever and Convincing Collection of Historical Short. [Derived Headline]

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ONE reads this clever and convincing collection of historical short stories knowing that history has already passed judgment on the six dictators whose youths are portrayed at crucial moments in their development.

Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Rafael Trujillo, and Adolf Hitler have, of course, all been condemned in the world court of public opinion for their respective crimes against humanity in the 20th century.

Yet, to his creative credit, Toronto-based author Anton Piatigorsky -- a writer of plays, librettos and fiction -- manages to present this sextet of future tyrants in fiction as deeply flawed people and not just stereotypes.

He humanizes, but doesn't glamorize, them. The stories, which all seem plausible, provide us with some real insight into the protagonists' manipulative minds, thus providing perspective into their adult actions as murderous psychopaths.

So, for example, in Bottle Cap, Piatigorsky paints the conceited young telegraph operator Rafael Trujillo, whose Dominican dictatorship of almost 30 years is considered one of the bloodiest in the Americas, as an obsessive-compulsive personality.

He has a fetish for collecting beer bottle caps and is a believer in superstitions, such as spreading orange seeds on the ground and throwing dead snakes at those who wrong him.

In Tea Is Better Than Pepsi, Idi Amin comes off as a brazen, bullying and boisterous young cook in the King's African Rifles in Uganda.

The camaraderie of these soldiers--heavy drinking and informal soccer -- "that's Idi's idea of utopia," Piatigorsky writes. …