I have just been reading the bande dessinée, or rather graphic novel, Quai d'Orsay* (volume II), and laughing all the way through. It's a fabulous roman à clé depiction of an all-too-real French foreign ministry in the run-up to the Iraq war, with a bull-headed George W. Bush determined to invade with or without United Nations support. It's clear that "Abel Lanzac," the pseudymous co-author, had privileged access to the top levels of the Quai d'Orsay and that is what makes it so fascinating. In an interview with L'Express, he said that he had worked there and is close friends with Bruno LeMaire, the "superpen" of the ministry in those days, "whose presence permeates the book."
The larger-than-life character of Dominique de Villepin ("Alexandre Taillard de Vorms"**), then French Foreign Minister, dominates the book. It leaves you with a grudging respect for him, in spite of his habit of lecturing to crowds on his Club Med vacations. George W., Colin Powell, Berlusconi, and the Russian foreign minister also make appearances.
What strikes an American is, among other things, how important America is in the story. And how anguished the other countries were about the Iraq war. Along with a recent British black comedy, In the Loop, the focus is completely on what the Americans are doing. The other countries think what the U.S. is demanding is stupid, crazy, ignorant; but they are like little kids being dragged by a brutish big brother to somewhere they don't want to go.
1. Alexandre Taillard de Vorms, French Foreign Minister
2. "I was hoping that the people at Club Med would take fright and put a stop to it. The problem is, they were actually really happy. They started noticing that their customers ate it up, to the point that they would try to guess which Club Med the minister would choose for his next holiday so that they could book there."
3. "The United States of America aspires only to world peace." [In English in the original]
4. "French, too." "Oh good. You reassure me. I recognize French women."
5. "Okay, I see you're getting me now. This is a negotiation with the U.S. over peace versus war.... not an anchovy crisis in the Bay of Biscay.... Sorry, Sylvain."
*Christophe Blain et Abel Lanzac
**To me this sounds like tailleur de worms, but apparently it's borrowed from Luc Tayart de Borms, a Belgian aristocrat.