Hard to avoid the obvious: this is precious but never pretentious. Nothomb likes herself, particularly in the guise of the know-it-all daughter of a diplomat in very Red Chinese Peking (it’s 1972). Yet comic self-righteousness is a fundamental ingredient if you’re broadcasting the egocentric persuasions of a seven-year-old. And Nothomb does this exceptionally well.
The narrator rides around on her battle horse (a bicycle), wages war on East Bloc kids (prisoners get urine baths), and falls in love with Elena, an Italian, who is six and glacial. Behind the child’s play is a fiercely smart fictional autobiography about the politics of growing up. “Adults,” sneers the narrator, “those children fallen from grace.”
Indeed they are, and Nothomb can handle them, too. In every way this is a delight.