A satirical literary coup
Just like Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There (1970), De President (‘The President’) tells the story of a man who becomes the leader of a nation more or less by accident - in this case, of the fictitious Zapland, which closely resembles the present-day Netherlands, with its tense political climate, the anxious atmosphere around immigrants, legal or illegal, and their integration into society.
The main character in this second novel by Boudou is not a gardener but an illegal asparagus picker, Jusuf Ha - nicknamed ‘The President’ - who suddenly comes to power. Whereas in Being There, Chance explains the world using metaphors borrowed from his gardening work, the President presents his vision on society in terms of illegal labour in the asparaguscultivating industry, regardless of which public he is addressing: ‘You cannot find asparagus that you only eat in the summer, or only roll up in ham, or only use in a dish forced upon you in study courses… Those values and norms are flexible. They are not something we possess, stored away in a showcase in a museum. No, values and norms are like deliciously cooked asparagus. You want to serve it to everyone but not ram it down their throats. … A value is like an elegantly arranged plate of asparagus, an assignment, a motivation, an impulse to action, one that says: “Come closer, draw up a chair and eat, my friend, eat, Mister Illegal!?’
De President is a satire, a witty but also critical reflection on presentday politics and society which are governed by opportunism, favouritism, and the media. Unlike Chance, the President is not naive, but rather emerges as a power-crazed politician - someone who allocates ministers’ positions to his fellow asparagus pickers, and does not even flinch from committing murder.
This makes De President an extremely enthralling novel which confronts the reader with a distorted mirror, just like any satire. De President is a literary coup.