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Book Review September 4, 2003
Smut for the Pious
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 4 of 4
Europe and Africa, locked together in decay, with the richer continent fascinated and appalled by the mess beneath it -- that's the strongest impression you take away from Orizio's book. The same tone of shrill contempt permeates his chapter on Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier. Although Duvalier's Haiti is officially part of the Western Hemisphere, it has always had a stronger presence in Europe and Africa than in the Americas. Orizio tries to reduce Duvalier's French pretensions to scorn and sketches him as a weak, henpecked figurehead, using the Strachey-esque bitchy details Paul Johnson employed to bash Leftists in the Seventies, but he doesn't do it very well.

Worse still, Orizio can't really afford to make Baby Doc's weakness too clear, because then he loses the morbidly interesting premise of his book. If he could have interviewed Jean-Claude's terrifying father, the original Papa Doc Duvalier, that might have been interesting. But like most of the really talented dictators, Papa Doc died in power, and anyone who barged in to interview him without permission would have been handed over to the Tontons Macoutes, who had a lot of imagination when it came to nerve-endings and slow, painful deaths. Baby Doc, out of power and mooching around France, is about as scary and interesting as Baby Spice.

Wojciech Jaruzelski is another bystander who was dragged into this lineup just to take up space. Jaruzelski imposed martial law in Poland because the alternative was Soviet military intervention. That's his story, and as far as I know it's the simple truth. Trying to turn Jaruzelski into a Polish Amin or Mengistu dishonors both sorts of men. Jaruzelski rightly considers himself not a dictator but a good officer who took the shame of a climbdown on himself and so saved thousands of lives. Amin, equally rightly, considered himself a colossus, a man who literally fought his way out of the most primitive and insignificant tribe and region in Uganda to become absolute ruler of his country and ritual avenger of humiliated continent.

Pretending that these men share anything is the most fundamental example of the moral, intellectual and aesthetic weakness which pervades this deeply disappointing book. Hardcore fans of Idi Amin like myself will be annoyed to discover that Orizio's contact with Amin consists of one lousy phone call, with 25 pages of filler supplied by a dull account of Orizio's wanderings around Saudi Arabia looking for his subject. Most of his other encounters are equally trivial.

The only real meat in his Hoxha chapter is a brief interview with Enver Hoxha's widow -- who wisely follows Lord Emsworth's advice, "Stick to stout denial," ensuring a very dull conversation.

Slobodan Milosevic is conspicuously absent from the chapter bearing his name; Orizio manages only to chat with his wife, Mira. Mengistu shows himself to be nothing more or less than the straightforward Leninist ideologue he always claimed to be, and Orizio can't seem to push him into any interesting confessions.

Only the chapter on Bokassa sticks in my mind now. There's something about the scene of this pitiful ex-Emperor sitting in his hut, repeating his story of betrayal by his adored alien masters, which rings true. But I still can't tell whether Orizio really told that story, or whether it imposed itself on him--in spite of him.

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
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Good Night, and Bad Luck: In a nation terrorized by its own government, one newspaper dared to fart in its face. Get out your hankies, cuz we’re taking a look back at the impossible crises we overcame.

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Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

Clubbing Adventures Through Time
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eXile club reviewer Babooshka takes a trip through time with the ghost of Moscow clubbing past, present and future, and true to form, gets laid in the process.

The Fortnight Spin
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Jared comes out with yet another roundup of upcoming bardak sessions.

Your Letters
Richard Gere tackles this week's letters. Now reformed, he fights for gerbil rights all around the world.

13 Toxic Talents: Hollywood’s Worst Polluters
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Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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