Albert Bonniers förlag, 2009. ISBN: 9789100121730
Reviewed by Kevin Halliwell in SBR 2010:2
Diplomaten (The Diplomat) is the second instalment in Alexander Ahndoril’s planned trilogy of novels based loosely on the lives of three living Swedes.The first novel, Regissören (The Director), is about Ingmar Bergman and caused something of an uproar on release in 2006 when Bergman, who had initially been impressed with the manuscript of the novel, later changed his mind and declared the portrait humiliating ‘filth’ in an interview on Swedish TV. No similar reaction seems to have been forthcoming from Hans Blix, on whom Diplomaten is clearly modelled, despite the fact that, in an afterword, Ahndoril declares that ‘It was not my intention to depict the real person who was in charge of the UN weapons inspection team’. And it is true that, while the similarities between the first-person narrator and the public persona of Blix are legion, the parallels in the private sphere are much more tenuous. The first 100 pages of the novel depict the childhood of the narrator as a 10 year-old in the Uppsala of 1938 (Blix was born in Uppsala and would have been 10 years old in 1938), where he is forced to engage in a battle of wits with the playground bullies who use the school as their powerbase. It is here that he begins to understand the links between power, violent behaviour and cowardice, attributes which he sees co-existing in the bullies, Esbjörn and Liljefors, who almost end up killing their preferred victim – the grateful narrator’s replacement – the Jewish Koppel Hecht. Just as the 10 year-old prepares to witness the probable drowning of Hecht under the thin ice of the Fyris River, a black limousine arrives to sweep the narrator – and the reader – away. The whole novel turns on this authorial trick, as we soon become aware that the car is a kind of time machine that transports the boy – now a man – to the Manhattan of the early 21st century, where he is in charge of the UN’s weapons inspection team and is working round the clock to prevent a devastating conflict. The link with the first 100 pages becomes clear as the playground bullies of the narrator’s memory give way to the new bullies – and cowards – who he comes up against at the UN; Esbjörn and Liljefors have their modern counterparts in the international law- and policy-makers who stalk the corridors of power in the UN building.The new bullies are George W. Bush,Tony Blair, Colin Powell et al. and, though the stage is larger, the build-up to the war becomes an extension of the playground in which the power games, lies and intrigue are the same. Although the train of events coincides with historical fact and with Blix’s own account in Disarming Iraq, it matters little that we already know how this particular story will end, because the main interest lies in the psychological warfare that the different parties are engaged in. The intimidation of the school playground makes its logical transformation into the international political arena. Stylistically, Ahndoril displays an elegant control of his material as his game of cat-and-mouse unfolds into a real page-turner; but the high-flying machinations on display in the later ‘faction’ element of the novel are ultimately less moving and – paradoxically – somehow less real than the small-time power games of the schoolyard fiction.