Reza and the President

Last year’s English translation of Yasmina Reza’s Dawn Dusk or Night: A Year With Nicolas Sarkozy came at a low point for the French president. When Reza’s book, an intimate account of his unlikely campaign, was published in France, hopes were high for the new head of state. Although he ran as a conservative, he was classy enough to win over the left and center, in part because he represented a serene alternative to the bumblings of opponent Ségolène Royal. In the next year his approval ratings dropped as low as 32%, and have never really recovered. It was Reza’s book, a skinning of the political animal that sold over 100,000 copies, which helped him on his collapse.

What’s compelling about the book is that, unlike ordinary campaign trail tell-alls, it has a shelf life. By focusing on the details of Sarkozy’s neuroses—an obsession with his watch, for instance—she exposes the vanity and insecurity of all politicians, something with applications far beyond France in 2007.

Just as all presidential candidates have something in common, so are parents alike across the world. Reza’s God of Carnage recently won the Tony award for Best Play, and what made it remarkable was how American it seemed. This was partly good production and partly James Gandolfini (nobody’s more American than Tony Soprano), but those wouldn’t have been enough if the play had been too French. As Sarkozy’s cool strength won the affection of his country, Reza’s broad accessability is the secret to her international appeal. She’s lucky that crowds turn on presidents much faster than they do playwrights.

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