Saturday, August 26, 2006

Top novels of political intrigue

Melanie Kirkpatrick, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, named her five favorite novels of political intrigue for Opinion Journal.

Two titles that made her list:
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn Warren was the nation's first poet laureate, and it's easy to understand why when lingering over the beautiful language in this lushly written novel. But it's also a rollicking good read. Based on the life of Huey "Kingfish" Long of Louisiana, "All the King's Men" is the rags-to-riches story of Willie Stark, a small-town Southern politician who starts out as an idealistic young man of the people and ends up corrupted by the system he had sought to reform. Seen from the perspective of our new century, it's also a window into daily life in the Old South--its prejudices, language, manners and mores.

Death of a Red Heroine" by Qiu Xiaolong

Set in 1990s Shanghai, "Death of a Red Heroine" is an intriguing detective yarn as well as a commentary on how the Communist Party remains the controlling force in most aspects of ordinary life in China. While this is changing--especially in Beijing and Shanghai, where the "work unit" is no longer regnant--Party members still have access to better jobs, better apartments and even, in some cases, better options in love. One thing that hasn't changed is the personal power wielded by China's top officials and their families. Mr. Qiu's inspector-poet risks all when his investigation takes him too close to one of China's untouchable princelings, the son of a high-ranking official in Beijing. Mr. Qiu can write so accurately about life in the new China because he was born and grew up there; he can write so candidly because he now lives in the U.S., where he teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Click here to read about Kirkpatrick's other choices.

Elsewhere on the blog: I argue that while it's not the best Louisiana novel, All the King's Men is The Great Louisiana Novel. Slate's Bryan Curtis compared the novel with one of his contenders for The Great Texas Novel: "Billy Lee Brammer's The Gay Place, which is a roman a clef about the author's years working for Lyndon Johnson. (If you like All the King's Men, you'll love this. It's much better-written.)"

--Marshal Zeringue