What to know about ‘dictator chic’

This post originally appeared on This Week, Those Books

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With Donald Trump having become the first former US president to face federal criminal charges even as he campaigns for another White House run and Silvio Berlusconi having departed this mad, mad, bunga bunga world, “dictator chic” is much in focus.

When Mr Trump was indicted on charges that he mishandled classified documents and allegedly stored them in places that included a Mar-a-Lago bathroom, a photo of the scene depicted stacks of boxes under a large crystal chandelier. It was in the toilet, leading commentators to raise issues of both design and hygiene. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman tweeted that perhaps there was “a correlation between anti-democratic politics and a certain kind of bad taste.”

Bloomberg noted that “Berlusconi would have loved Trump’s bathroom chandelier”. After all, Italy’s three-time prime minister had his own piece of “dictator chic”: The 68-room, six-swimming pool Villa Certosa once dubbed Berlusconi’s “vulgar Versailles”.

Dear Reader, this week reminds me of those books:

The Dictator’s Wife

By Freya Berry.

Publisher: Headline Review

Year: 2022

A debut novel that takes off at a great pace then gets slightly lost in the weeds of the story. It revolves around Marija Popa, widow of Constantin who ruled the fictional Eastern European country of Yanussia with an iron fist. The story is told by Laura Lăzărescu, a Yanussian-born, London-bred lawyer who’s working on Marija’s case and is mesmerised by a woman she knows to be as heartless as she is beautiful.

There are some great lines in there, not least the following declaration by the dictator’s wife: “These prosecutors are rummaging in my closets, hoping to find skeletons. But all they will find are my beautiful clothes.” It’s an adaptation of something Imelda Marcos, the original dictator’s wife once said. More on Imelda below.

Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World’s Most Colorful Despots

By Peter York

Publisher: Chronicle Books Llc

Year: 2006

Not a work of fiction but it very well might be. It explores dictator chic to the fullest, ranging across Saddam Hussein’s private art collection, the Ceausescu bathroom (Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago toilet doesn’t come close, actually) and even further back in time – Hitler, Lenin, Stalin etc.

Imelda Marcos, whose son Ferdinand ‘Bong Bong’ Marcos Jr, namesake of the former dictator,  returned the political dynasty to power in the Philippines last year, also makes an appearance. But of course you can’t say “dictator chic” without mentioning Imelda Marcos. The trial in The Dictator’s Wife is loosely based on that of Imelda who, after the death of her husband, appeared in deep mourning and collapsed from grief.

Any dictator chic books you recommend?

Originally published at: https://rashmee.substack.com/p/what-to-know-about-dictator-chic

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