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Review of "The Sun King" by David Ignatius

That's All, Folks


All the power critics are calling "The Sun King" by David Ignatius (Random House, $22.95) an echo of "The Great Gatsby," but that's not important. Whether you've ever read F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is not the issue. This is not the early 1920s, nor is it the Jazz Age. It's 1999, it's the Infotech Age, and most important, it's the time when Boomers are reaching their apogee and wondering why life doesn't seem to be quite so interesting as they'd expected — or been led to believe.

No, "The Sun King" owes more to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote that cynically poignant Peggy Lee hit of the early 1960s, "Is That All There Is." Forget "Gatsby." See if you can track down a copy of Lee singing those heartbreaking lyrics and then you'll be in the right mood for "The Sun King."

Heretofore, Ignatius — a Washington Post op-ed columnist and former foreign correspondent — has written spy novels. In "The Sun King," he writes an over-the-top story about love lost and nearly regained, a brilliant send-up of Washington in the age of That Cigar, and a wickedly contemptuous tale of what the profession of publishing newspapers has come to.

As the book opens, David Cantor, the narrator, writes for "Reveal," a trashy magazine that tracks the antics of Washington's social elite. But then he meets Carl Sandburg Galvin, a billionaire who wants to make his mark on D.C. With Cantor's help, he wrangles the Capitol's most respected daily, The Sun, out of the hands of the two families who've owned it for a century. Cantor doesn't know it, but Galvin is doing it all for love — to fan the flames of a Harvard romance gone sour with the golden girl who's now the Sun's foreign editor.

"The Sun King" is a great read, but it's the observations that Ignatius slips in along the way that will linger. Like those lyrics by Leiber and Stoller: "If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing. Let's break out the booze and have a ball. If that's all there is."

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