This is one account of his journey to become US President that Donald Trump will not particularly appreciate.
Though purporting to be the story of Prince Fracassus, the heir apparent to the Duchy of Origen, known for its “golden-gated skyscrapers and casinos”, British Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson’s latest work is easily recognisable as a trenchant satire on the 45th US President.
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Should any reader still not be able to figure it out, the cover and silhouette illustrations within the narrative, which is couched in the form of a coming-of-age-cum-political novel in a fable-like setting, amply indicate whom the protagonist supposedly represents.
If there is any further doubt, there is Jacobson’s version of the Biblical Revelation, where the narrator sees, rising out of the sea, a beast whose “face was as the face of a spoiled child…” and is given power and authority by the people who worshipped him despite “there was given unto him a mouth speaking foolish things…”
Who else in the world could it be?
Beginning with Fracassus acquiring a new tutor, it chronicles his education and other early formative influences, his forays into business and politics, and the lessons he learns from some masters down to his ultimate victory.
But what makes it intriguing is his early, unsuccessful love affair with the determined Sojjourner (with a double J as she points out) Heminway — and it is only much later we learn how it came out. In another twist, she becomes his opponent in the election for the new “Prime Mover of All The Republics”.
But in the arsenal of literary weapons, satire is frequently akin to a machine gun and Jacobson’s work has a wide range of targets — the privileged elite, politicians and politics in general, self-aggrandizing business, the “sexist” mindset (which gives the book its title), manufactured xenophobia, the cult of celebrity, mindless “entertainment” with a special emphasis on game shows, and not the least, the fickle public mind.
Jacobson manages to hit all, with one of his most incisive and hard-hitting shots at the “whole secret of good government”, which is simply to make lavish promises but not keep them, coupled with the infallible formula of political success — to be thorough.
Fracassus is told by a master practitioner that people never forgive a half-hearted liar, “but if they know you to be a liar through and through, and you show that you know they know you to be a liar, they can trust you”.
As hard-hitting — and going far beyond the purported population it describes — is the series of volleys on the public and its inconsistent beliefs, demands and goals.
“A hunger for change. A dread of change. A virulent mutual distrust that pitted citizen against citizen… A belief in the free market of goods and ideas that concealed a profound reluctance to trade freely in either. A delight in what was gaudy that concealed a contempt for the wealth that made gaudy possible. A contempt for wealth that concealed a veneration for it. A sense, that is to say, of universal futility and despair for which — and here was the part that interested the Prince — the only antidote was him.”
Evokes any resonance? It could explain rise of many “popular” leaders besides the current POTUS.
Another highlight is a barbed look at another key leader —Vozzek Spravchik, whose offices has photos of him “in his swimming trunks, driving a jeep, diving, surfing and standing in an Olympic pool balancing on each shoulder the two synchronised swimmers who’d won silver medals…” as well as a painting of him “arm-wrestling a polar bear”.
But the ultimate abiding and unforgettable lesson is from the same reworking of the Revelations where people eventually ask why they worshipped the beast, realise he arose from their own hearts, and once out, will never be persuaded to go back.