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December 3, 2008

Florence of Arabia

Christopher Buckley – ISBN – 9780812972269

This is yet another clever, intelligent, entertaining and madcap novel by one of the masters of the genre: a political satire on Saudi Arabia, the French and the Middle East, including not incidentally French Intelligence, clandestine U.S. organizations and venture capitalists.

Florence (or Flor-enzz) Farfalleti, a well intentioned, dedicated American of Italian extraction undertakes the emancipation of Muslim women with the help of “Uncle Sam”—an American whose identity is not revealed until the last page—and a handful of peculiarly brilliant if snarky and furtive Americans including a shady lobbyist, a defrocked CIA agent and a struggling public relations man.

The nation of Wasabi (not, of course, Wahhabi) is an oil rich country intentionally land-locked in 1922 by the order of Winston Churchill, to even a score with its Sheikh. All of its oil must be piped thru the small country of Matar (pronounced mutter—as in Qatar), which borders the Persian Gulf. Matar’s only source of revenue is the Churchill fee for said access.

Wasabi is a violent, radical Muslim nation noted for beheadings, caning, stoning, and otherwise intimidating its population, especially its women, while Matar is deemed the Switzerland of the Middle-East, where drinking, carousing, and gambling—to mention only a few vices—are encouraged, and whose Emir is a dedicated--actually pathologic--libertine.

The Sheika (Laila) is a beautiful Englishwoman, who had been a successful T.V. personality. They have one son, whom she insists become the Emir. She has required that her husband have no other wives, thus to avoid other legitimate heirs. Consequently he has a harem of lacivious and beautiful women in a separate palace where he spends most of his time doing . . . oh, well, you figure it out. Laila will no longer have relations unless he has a blood test, which he refuses to do, resulting in a stand-off.

Florence moves forth to interest Laila in a T.V. station with programming oriented toward the emancipation of women. They agree. The Emir reluctantly agrees because of the enormous revenue it generates. The target audience is the Muslim women, most specifically those from Wasabi, in order to destabilize it, which situation is desired by Uncle Sam and whomsoever he represents.

It works, of course. The Wasabi powers are enraged and, with French assistance stage a coup. The Emir “disappears” and is replaced by his dull-witted brother, permitting the Wasabi notables to take over effective governance. The support staff is secreted out of Matar and Laila is arrested. Florence is sought, but refuses to leave without freeing her friend.

She offers to exchange herself for the Sheika, but is not to be bamboozled, either. When the Wasabis, the French and the new Emir try to entrap her she goes underground and begins to photograph and report upon the new regime, sending video tapes of executions and the mayhem wrought by the administrative change, which infuriates (some of) the world.

Rather than be enraged, the Europeans—predictably—rail against the events being aired on TV.

As noted, it’s a madcap story, but it’s enormously creative and entertaining . . . and while I won’t give away the important stuff, it does end well, as do Buckley’s other novels.

Posted by respeto at December 3, 2008 3:29 PM