Imagine a country containing an amalgamation of all the worst attributes of North Korea, Communist China and Nazi Germany. Children are tested for their future educational and career needs at the age of four, and those who show high potential are whisked away from their parents into state institutions. There they are brainwashed into complete subservience to the state, using a curriculum involving extreme martial arts, political indoctrination, chemical warfare and urban terrorism.
Now move forward to a mid-Western church in America where a female missionary feels such concern for these children that she arranges an exchange visit for a number of them to stay with American host-families. The children arrive in America to have six months of respite from their harsh existence, and as the host-father puts it, to "to sing our songs and share the fellowship of our homes and church". However, unbeknown to these generous-hearted families, these children have been given a plan: their educators have shown them how to wreak "Operation Havoc", a terrible act of destruction on the evil American town in which they have come to stay.
This book is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time. The whole book is written in the first person by one of the children, Operative 67, using a sort of pidgin American which takes some getting used to but provides considerable insight into the regime they have been brought up in.
The book is a satire, but on both cultures. The host-family are a sort of Simpsons-like parody of the ideal American family, mixing a mindless involvement in their church community while indulging in all the excesses of American culture. The immigrant children however are classic communist automatons, parroting ideological phrases in everything they say. Agent 67 for example is surprised that in order to gain training in organic chemistry or nuclear particle flux statistics, American youth must:
I soon got used to the language and found myself paging back through the book to notice subtleties I'd missed earlier. You need to work at this book quite a bit, for its actually very clever indeed and is worth reading twice. The story works forward to its inevitable conclusion, with many hilarious episodes along the way. Pygmy has to take part in every part of the family's life and his commentary on their activities offers a unique perspective on dating, shopping and entertainment. Little do these poor saps realise the hate-filled response of this small child among them whose every act is slowly working towards fulfilment of the mission set for him.
I think is a book I will definitely be keeping on my shelves for future re-reading.