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FLORENCE OF ARABIA by Christopher Buckley Kirkus Star


by Christopher Buckley

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-6223-3
Publisher: Random House

Buckley (Washington Schlepped Here, 2003; No Way to Treat a First Lady, 2002, etc.) jauntily flips pies at Middle Eastern dynasties, splattering meringue on the CIA, the State Department, the French, the mullahs, and anyone else standing nearby. Who could not laugh?

How this one slipped past the sensitivity censors is a mystery, but a happy mystery. Barely disguising the Royal House of Saud, its 40,000 crown princes, or the murderously fundamental clergy it supports, Buckley uses the baton passed to him by the dying Evelyn Waugh to ridicule America’s most embarrassing ally in the most amusing way possible, deploying high gags and low (camel gas is the best). Our heroine is beautiful State Department Arabist Florence Farfaletti, 32, who receives a midnight phone call from Nazrah, a princess married to Prince Bawad, a Washington fixture and one of the 40,000 crown princes of the oil-rich kingdom of Wasabia (Buckley’s puns never let up, but they’re good). Princess Nazrah has fled the odiously polygamous Bawad to seek asylum at the CIA, but the gates are down and the Wasabian guards are about to drag her back to certain execution. Can’t Florence do something? Alas, there’s no time, and the rebellious princess loses her head. A furious Florence finds herself mysteriously financed as she hatches a scheme to bring down the Wasabis and all the other patriarchal oligarchs by means of a sort of Arab Lifetime Channel, television for anyone restless in her burqah. Assisted by a gay friend from the Arab desk, an exuberant Gucci Gulch flack, and a handsome and resourceful Cajun mercenary, Florence sets up her broadcasting shop in the emirate of Matar, where the sheika Laila, wife of the booby on the throne, is eager to help out. More heads roll, and Florence almost loses her own before things are sorted out.

Buckley is a literary WMD. Thank heavens he’s ours.