Review: Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley

Florence of Arabia Bookcover
So, as I said before, along with my usual posts, I’m going to start letting you guys read book reviews based on what I’m reading (or more accurately put, what I just finished reading).  And with that I present the review of “Florence of Arabia” by Christopher Buckley.  Yes, another Christopher Buckley book…

Now, while I thought “Little Green Men” was a little tongue-in-cheek, “Florence of Arabia” reads as a straight up satire of everything that’s wrong with many of the countries in the world being run under strict Islamic law (I once knew the exact term for it, I think it’s like Shira law, or something.  Maybe there’s an apostrophe in there somewhere.)  Within the first 2 pages, you get an understanding of just how smart and funny this book will be.  Suffice it to say, it involves the mandated requirement that all adult males of Wasabia (a fictional kingdom in the Middle East) pay homage to the king by placing a token amount of camel dung on their tongues for a day.  I know, right?

Well, anywho, FoA tells the story of Florence Farfaletti, a mid-level State Department bureaucrat as she doles out vengeance to the backward countries of the Middle East in retaliation for their treatment of women under Islamic law.  After a friend of hers (who also happens to be one of the Wasabian ambassador’s four wives) is killed for driving a car in an attempt to flee her abusive husband, Florence devises a plan to avenge her by rousing the female Arab population into revolt, eventually bringing about peace and stabilization in the Middle East.  Upon sending her plan to her supervisor in the State Department and a person named “S” (who I guess means the Secretary of State), Florence is immediately reassigned to the Cape Verde islands.  That is, until she meets the mysterious “Uncle Sam,” who is apparently well connected enough to get Florence copies of the President’s Daily Threat Assessments and millions in Wasabian gold.

Uncle Sam likes Florence’s plan and immediately dispatches her to the sovereign state of Matar (pronounced “mutter”), a nation that can only be described as a sort of Dubai, in that its entire reason for existence is because Winston Churchill wanted to prevent Wasabia, and thereby the French, from obtaining access to saltwater ports.  As such, Matar, and its ruling family, has grown quite rich off of charges to Wasabia for the privilege of putting pipelines across its 10 mile wide territory.  Meanwhile, the country has grown quite the reputation for being the liberal playground for Westerners who have tired of the French Riviera.  Along with her team of 3 other individuals (a PR guru, trained by Nick Naylor; her gay friend from the State Department; and a trigger happy, CIA agent with a penchant for affairs with local ambassador’s wives), Florence sets up a TV station in Matar aimed at the 2.5 million women in Matar (and countless others throughout the region) with nothing better to do all day.  Needless to say, the station is immediately a hit when it begins cracking wise concerning the various stupid laws that women in the surrounding area are supposed to comply with.  (The morning show host, in full veil, trips thus exposing everything up to her thighs, on the first show, then complains because no one can see out of those things).

Well, the TV station begins to draw a very large audience not only in Matar, but also Wasabia, much to the displeasure of the strict mullahs therein.  So much so, that one of the King’s wives actually has the balls to intrude on the King’s Council meeting without a veil and, even more alarming, wearing pants!  Needless to say, the King is very pissed and sentences her to death, setting into motion the complete and total upheaval of the region when Florence’s TV announces her sentence.

I’ll stop there, but those of you who have read “Boomsday” will likely notice the parallel between the female protagonists’ subsequent roles as they are both eventually forced underground because of their heroic actions.  But, despite that similarity, Buckley deserves a very long tip of the hat for having the audacity to write this book in 2004.  Remember, at that time, everyone was tripping over themselves to remember to say that “Islam is a religion of peace. . .” etc., etc.  But Buckley presses on, ridiculing not only the extremely harsh nature in which women are treated throughout the region, but also the United States repeated missteps and disasters in the region, the competition between the U.S. and France over gaining advantageous oil contracts and military possessions in the area, and the ridiculous manner by which those in power come into, and subsequently are thrown out of power.  Not to mention repeated trips to the bigamy joke well.

As with “Little Green Men,” be sure to keep a dictionary handy while reading FoA, as Buckley shares in his father’s predilection to employ his expansive vocabulary.  And, maybe keep a French and Latin translator handy on the computer as well.  Not that you absolutely have to have one, but I get the feeling that a couple of jokes just went over my head.  Darn public school education. . .

Anyway, anyone out there looking for a laugh out loud good time and/or a quick read should definitely check out this book, as it is chock full of the typical Buckley sarcastic wit and dry humor.  Moreover, at only 250 pages, you can easily finish it in a weekend – or all-night bender like me.  Even if you’re rarely on my side on things I post here, go ahead, see that even one-time-conservatives can be funny, and maybe even a little mischievous.

– Kyle

P.S. – I promise that the next review will NOT be a Christopher Buckley book, but at the pace I’m going on others, it may just be his Dad’s “God and Man at Yale” – which is great, just a very labor-intense book to read.


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