Florence of Arabia
I learn from the editorīs note, that Christopher Buckley has already written 10 books in addition to having been editor of magazines and speech writer for the White House. And he certainly put all his experience to excellent use in this, his latest book.
His heroine, Florence Farfalleti, fluent in Arabic and a couple of other languages, works for the Near East branch of the State Department. When one of the wives of a Wasabia dignity in Washington tries to flee, she wants to protect her but has to watch helplessly, how she is handed back to her cruel husband by the American authorities and consequently is beheaded in the fittingly named Chop Chop Place in the capital of said Wasabia. Florence is furious with her employers who had let all that happen. She writes a memorandum, in which she points out, how by strengthening womenīs rights in Arabic countries democracy can be introduced in the process. But none of her bosses even wants to admit having read it.
She is to be transferred to some dull posting, when an elderly gentleman, calling himself Uncle Sam, approaches her. He has read her proposals and is willing to give her all the money she needs and the team, too. As he seems to know everything about everybody in question and has access to all the necessary files, she comes to the conclusion, that he is a member of a very secret secret service. Florence insists on choosing her own team of three, George, her colleague, Nick Renard, a very ingenious PR man, and Bobby, a former secret agent and man of many means. Together they set out to revolutionize Matar, the”Switzerland on the Persian Gulf” and via Matar, their real target, Wasabia.
With the help of Laila, the wife of Matarīs corrupt and greedy ruler, they start TVMatar with a show, among others, making fun of the religious police. TVMatar is an immediate success with Arabic women, and the reader canīt help laughing out loud about the daring, politically absolutely incorrect procedures of the team. But gradually the situation deteriorates, with French and Wasabian secret agents playing their own cruel war games. TVMatarīs anchorwoman is stoned to death, Florence has to go underground, but stubbornly refuses to leave the country. Together with faithful Bobby she causes maximum havoc and - allīs well that ends well.
Buckley knows, what he is writing about. He has dedicated the novel to Fern Holland, a real-life Florence of Arabia, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, aged 33. And his tale changes from sharp-witted to sarcastic in the course of the unfolding events. Not much good he has to say about either of the involved parties and he leaves the reader just as frustrated as his heroine. Ah, and for Uncle Sam, he is on the board of the “Waldorf Group”, an investment-banking firm with close ties to Wasabia. So in the end, the story reminds you of “The Business” by Iain Banks, where the Catholic Church plays the role of the behind-the-scene financial power.