Book Review: They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?
In his tenth novel They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, Christopher Buckley plays off of stereotypes of China to create a satirical portrait of U.S-China relations. Buckley explores the worst case scenario with inspiration from the satire movie Dr. Strangelove:
It was hard, really, to put any kind of definite face on China. The old Soviet Union, with its squat, warty leaders banging their shoes on the U.N. podium and threatening thermonuclear extinction, all those vodka-swollen, porcine faces squinting from under sable hats atop Lenin’s Tomb as nuclear missiles rolled by like floats in a parade from hell — those Commies at least looked scary. But on the rare occasion when the nine members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the men who ruled 1.3 billion people — one-fifth of the world’s population — lined up for a group photo, they looked like a delegation of identical, overpaid dentists.
Janet Maslin of the New York Times found the Chinese aspects of the novel disappointing: “Mr. Buckley’s satirical insights about American-Chinese relations were worth looking forward to, but they will have to stay that way.” She still recommends the book for Buckley fans:
To be fair, Mr. Buckley’s vocabularic gifts remain consummate, especially when it comes to elegant Latin versions of less elegant English lingo. So perhaps the problem lies with his decision to depict Sino-American relations as creakily hostile. There are characters in “They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?” who regret the winning of the cold war, and they don’t entirely seem to be joking.
Jess Walter of the Washington Post also did not see the book on par with Buckley’s past works of satire:
Unlike ‘Thank You for Smoking,’ which managed the neat trick of pulling us closer to the lobbyists it satirized, “They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?” begins to lag as it drifts further from Bird, bouncing from Beijing to Washington, from meeting to television chat-fest to one-sided phone conversation.
New York Times Book Review editor Alida Becker wrote a positive review and introduced one of the main characters with glee:
Assisting in — and quickly commandeering — this [China-targeting] effort is Angel Templeton, “tall, blond, buff, leggy, miniskirted” and the very public face of a Washington think tank called the Institute for Continuing Conflict. (“We’re not,” she coyly explains, “really into deterrence at ICC.”)
In the book, an Indian Web site, the “Delhi Beast,” at one point explains that the Chinese government poisoned the Dalai Lama. In a fun interview by the (actual) Daily Beast, Buckley jokes, “Maybe I’m the new Nostradamus, or if you will, the new Faith Popcorn.” With the Dalai Lama claiming that a Chinese female secret agent attempted to poison him, he may have a point.