The Dalai Lama recently accused China of training female assassins to poison him with their hair.
He might prefer not to learn that he kicks the bucket in Christopher Buckley’s new satire on Sino-American relations, “They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?”
It all begins when veteran defense lobbyist Walter “Bird” McIntyre is summoned to his boss’s office. Aerospace giant Groepping-Sprunt has just axed 300 employees and Bird is afraid he’s next.
Instead, he finds himself given the task of stirring up anti-Chinese sentiment to help grease the passage of a top- secret weapons system known as Taurus through Congress.
“You get yourself back to Gomorrah-on-the-Potomac and open me up a can of whoop-ass on Beijing” are Bird’s exact orders.
To that end, he teams with Angel Templeton, a telegenic and exceedingly right-wing pundit. (Think Ann Coulter.) As “directrix” of the Institute for Continuing Conflict, Angel is a figurehead for the “Oreo-Cons” -- hard-liners who advocate intervention abroad and laissez-faire policies at home. If Bird is a K-Street scoundrel utterly lacking in principles, Angel will stop at nothing in defense of hers.
The warmongering duo catches a break after an upset stomach forces the Dalai Lama to postpone a meeting with the pope. They plant the theory that it’s a Chinese plot to poison the Tibetan leader. Then, when his health drastically worsens and he’s hospitalized in Cleveland, they are left playing catch-up.
Bird, by the way, is an aspiring novelist, hard at work on an unpublishable trilogy that has ballooned into a quartet. After the international standoff triggered by the ailing lama makes World War III seem a very real prospect, he consoles himself with the thought that it’s all good material.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, President Fa Mengyao, a crypto Tibetan-sympathizer, faces mutiny among his ministers. At the White House, Rogers P. Fancock, director of the National Security Council, longs only for retirement. Both have advisers pushing alarmingly thought-through plans to resolve the situation by dispatching “Saffron Man.”
The novel whips along with good-natured irreverence, embracing infidelity and a spiritual awakening, the U.S. equestrian team, a meth lab, Civil War re-enactors and a hedge- funder who owns a 757 fitted out as a flying stable. It also posits an ingenious, if costly (the price tag is $200 million), solution to the problem of what to do with the Dalai Lama’s body.
Buckley has produced a superbly paced novel whose hilarity is often in the details. Bird has a penchant for missile-themed bow ties and matching cummerbunds, for instance. Angel splits a sleeping pill with her eight-year-old son Barry -- after Barry Goldwater -- following his bedtime installment of Winston Churchill’s memoirs.
Yet if the novel has a serious point to make, it’s this misnamed zealot who voices it. As she notes of China’s doleful environmental record and proclivity for intellectual-property piracy, “We made them the real Bank of America. What are we going to do?”
While our hands are tied, we might at least capitalize on the comedy of it all, Buckley suggests.
(Hephzibah Anderson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Hephzibah Anderson in London at Hephzibah_anderson@hotmail.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.