US-China relations are grist for satirist's mill

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"They Eat Puppies, Don't They?" (Twelve), by Christopher Buckley: With rising concern about China's military buildup and its economic rivalry with the U.S., perhaps the best course of action is to milk the situation for some laughs. And there are laughs aplenty in Christopher Buckley's sendup on relations between the two superpowers that seem destined to dominate world affairs in the 21st century.

The chief protagonist of the tale is defense lobbyist and aspiring novelist Walter "Bird" McIntyre. Bird's big aerospace client assigns him a secret mission to whip up anti-China fervor after a Senate panel rejects funding for Dumbo, the company's new armed-to-the-teeth predator drone that's as big as a jumbo jet.

Working with blond, miniskirted neocon Angel Templeton of the Institute for Continuing Conflict, Bird floats the idea of starting a rumor that the Chinese tried to poison the Dalai Lama. With the Tibetan holy man reported to be in a Rome hospital with a deadly illness, speculation turns to whether the Beijing regime will allow him, or his remains, to return to his native land.

Tension between the U.S. and China mounts as their navies are poised for battle in the East China Sea. Chinese frigates are sent to intercept a U.S. surveillance ship, the Rumsfeld, with "dozens of U.S. and Chinese fighters circling overhead, hissing at each other like high-tech geese." Meanwhile, China's president, whose nickname, "Cool Limpidity," reflects his equable temperament, faces a challenge from hard-liners in the Politburo Standing Committee while he and America's national security adviser struggle to prevent a war.

Even as Bird makes mischief from the Military-Industrial Duplex, as he refers to his condo near the Pentagon, he faces trouble on a second front from wife Myndi, who resides at their home in the Virginia horse country while attempting to qualify for the U.S. equestrian team. Its competition for the Tang Cup is to be held in China, adding another layer of complications for her beleaguered husband.

The cast of characters consists mostly of over-the-top inventions, but the author adds a few real names to the mix. There is, of course, the Dalai Lama — the book's Chinese leaders refer to him as the Dung Lotus. Henry Kissinger dispenses advice to some of the characters, and TV journalist Chris Matthews moderates clashes on "Hardball" between Angel and Winnie Chang, the head of the U.S.-China Co-Dependency Council.

"They Eat Puppies, Don't They?" marks Buckley's return to fiction following his best-selling memoir about his parents, William F. and Patricia. His latest work is filled with the kind of colorful characters and sidesplitting dialogue that made the earlier novels, including "Thank You for Smoking" and "Florence of Arabia," a pleasure to read. Creators of great works of satire, such as Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, don't appear often, but Buckley follows in the footsteps of fellow satirist Tom Wolfe in giving readers a delightful perspective on some of the leading issues and social mores of our times.

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