Tag Archives: Muslim insurgency

Feminism? In Arabia? Read it here first

A review of Florence of Arabia, by Christopher Buckley

@@@ (3 out of 5)

Christopher Buckley proved to me that he’s one of the funniest writers alive today with Thank You For Smoking, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, and Little Green Men (the latter two of which I’ve reviewed in this blog and hyperlinked their titles to my reviews). Florence of Arabia is, like them, a satirical novel rooted in contemporary issues, but once Buckley had introduced his protagonist and set up the story that revolves around her, I found myself laughing less and less. The difference here is that the issue the novel addresses — the brutal subjugation of women in ultra-conservative Muslim societies — is simply not funny. However preposterous the characters or improbable the circumstances, the subject just isn’t laughable at all.

In other ways, however, Florence of Arabia showed off Buckley’s exceptional talent: deliciously convoluted (if not Byzantine) plotting, overblown characters that somehow still seem true to life, and thorough grounding in the facts on the ground to make the story seem dangerously close to reality. All this made the book worth reading, even though I pretty much stopped chuckling about one-third of the way through the story.

So, here’s what happens: State Department bureaucrat Florence (born Firenze) Farfaletti is driven to feminist activism when an old friend from her tour in Wasabia (read: Saudi Arabia) is beheaded at the orders of her husband, the Wasabian Ambassador to the U.S., when she contacts Florence during an attempt to escape her stifling life in the Embassy. Improbably bankrolled by a shadowy government official named “Uncle Sam” to engineer a feminist revolution in Wasabia, Florence teams up with a CIA master-spy, a totally unprincipled PR man, and her gay State Department friend, George, a brilliant linguist and political analyst. Together, the four hapless warriors translate themselves to the Emirate of Matar (pronounced “Mutter”) where they set Florence’s cockamamie scheme into motion with the support of the Emir’s wife, a former television anchor in the UK.

Mayhem ensues. What else?

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Filed under Humor, Trade Fiction

Typhoon, by Charles Cumming

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

“Professor Wang Kaixuan emerged from the waters of the South China Sea shortly before dawn,” and so begins this well-constructed tale of high-stakes espionage, betrayal, and unforeseen consequences set in modern-day China. The story revolves around an improbably capable young MI6 agent, his flamboyant CIA counterpart, the young woman they both lust after, and a right-wing Washington cabal and the corporation that does its bidding. The book is well-researched, cogently written, and expertly plotted. If your taste runs to spy thrillers, this is one of the best of recent years. Cumming is sometimes referred to as the successor to John Le Carre, but I’d like to see him write about a more believable protagonist before I go along with that judgment.

ISBN-10: 031255852X

ISBN-13: 978-0312558529

ASIN: B002XHNO38

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Filed under Mysteries & Thrillers, Spy Stories