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3.6 out of 5 stars67
3.6 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 29 February 2008
This isn't the type of book I'd usually read - usually I prefer to stick to more light-hearted stuff, or at least, books that don't contain too much politics. It's not a subject that really interests me, so I usually steer clear. However, The Mission Song certainly kept me interested throughout.

It tells the tale of a translator with a murky past, and a questionable childhood. All the moving around in his past, however, has given him an excellent grasp of several languages, which is why he is chosen for a 'secret' project. Taken from his normal life, he is asked to change his identity and his clothes, and is transported to an unknown island for a couple of days where he is to sit in on a conference, and translate conversations between several different people of varying races. He is also expected to listen to private conversations taking place in bugged rooms.

Having overheard several very interesting conversations, Salvo realises the whole project he is attending is corrupt. There are underhand deals and much more going on. Towards the end of the conference, Salvo steals evidence of these deals, and goes home. He tries to do what he thinks is right and out the truth. But nobody believes him... or at least, they pretend not to. Eventually, Salvo has no idea where to turn, he doesn't know who he can trust, and who is on whose side.

In the meantime, his personal life is undergoing a huge change as he has met a black nurse, whose homeland is not so very far from his own, and they share interests and passions - and fall in love. But Salvo is married to a woman who he no longer loves, and also suspects is cheating on him.

Overall, a very harrowing time for our young hero, as he desperately tries to begin a relationship with the woman he believes to be his soulmate, and to also stop the corrupt powers of the conference bringing a country to its knees.

This book certainly kept me hooked. The plot is intriguing, packed with politics and corruption (which I suppose go hand-in-hand anyway), and a real sense that you want the young hero to "save the day." You'll have to read it to find out if he does. But this isn't a book you can rush, because you'll lose the plot. A very involving and intriguing tale.
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Between elections, most voters are quite skeptical about leading politicians in the democracies. Near to an election, that skepticism turns into a temporary love affair with hope in the form of a politician who strikes us as a good person. In the Mission Song, John le Carré takes dead aim at our near-election naiveté and sinks the throwing spear in deep into our psyches.

The narrator of The Mission Song is a minor character in the world of cloak-and-dagger, Bruno Salvador (Salvo), an interpreter who sometimes does little jobs for the British secret service when obscure East Congo languages are involved. But Salvo is also us, the every person who wants to do her or his duty in the name of goodness and democracy. Salvo comes by his languages naturally, both as a talent and as part of his life growing up in Africa. To some Africans, he's a "zebra," a person who has both white and black parentage. His father was an Irish Catholic missionary, which means that Bruno began life hidden away from his true parentage.

His language skills and the support of the Church enable Salvo to come to England and ply his trade. With spectacular good looks, he attracts a wealthy white bride whose career is zooming among the tabloids of Fleet Street. But he doesn't feel like he fits into the marriage or his wife's world.

Salvo's life takes a tremendous turn when he falls for an East Congolese nurse while interpreting for a dying man in hospital. She shares her body and her faith in moderate leadership for the East Congo.

On his way to his wife's moment of triumph, Salvo doesn't even take time to wash off the scents of his new woman. He's a man filled with passion. A surprise call from his secret employers pulls him into a rush job to translate official as well as bugged conversations to help create a revolt in the East Congo. In the course of this role, his curiosity leads Salvo to learn more than he should . . . and he tries to change the course of history.

The book shines brightest when it develops the characters involved in ways that make them memorable and interesting. Mr. le Carré succeeds quite well with two of his characters, Salvo, and Haj, one of the potential participants in the coup plot. The other characters seem hurried and thin in their portrayals.

The plot is hard to follow. If you don't like dense plots, skip this book.

If you like dense portrayals of psychological manipulation, you'll adore this book. The development of the various relationships and negotiations are quite well done.

The end of the book will delight some and outrage others. It's more of a political statement than the end of a novel. But much of what is said about statecraft today has become politicized, so cloak-and-dagger stories should not be immune.

Many people don't like irony in their novels. It strikes them as off-key story-telling rather than irony. The Mission Song has such a rich vein of irony that you will find yourself marveling at its pervasiveness. If you can accept the irony for what it is, you'll love this book.
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Between elections, most voters are quite skeptical about leading politicians in the democracies. Near to an election, that skepticism turns into a temporary love affair with hope in the form of a politician who strikes us as a good person. In the Mission Song, John le Carré takes dead aim at our near-election naiveté and sinks the throwing spear in deep into our psyches.

The narrator of The Mission Song is a minor character in the world of cloak-and-dagger, Bruno Salvador (Salvo), an interpreter who sometimes does little jobs for the British secret service when obscure East Congo languages are involved. But Salvo is also us, the every person who wants to do her or his duty in the name of goodness and democracy. Salvo comes by his languages naturally, both as a talent and as part of his life growing up in Africa. To some Africans, he's a "zebra," a person who has both white and black parentage. His father was an Irish Catholic missionary, which means that Bruno began life hidden away from his true parentage.

His language skills and the support of the Church enable Salvo to come to England and ply his trade. With spectacular good looks, he attracts a wealthy white bride whose career is zooming among the tabloids of Fleet Street. But he doesn't feel like he fits into the marriage or his wife's world.

Salvo's life takes a tremendous turn when he falls for an East Congolese nurse while interpreting for a dying man in hospital. She shares her body and her faith in moderate leadership for the East Congo.

On his way to his wife's moment of triumph, Salvo doesn't even take time to wash off the scents of his new woman. He's a man filled with passion. A surprise call from his secret employers pulls him into a rush job to translate official as well as bugged conversations to help create a revolt in the East Congo. In the course of this role, his curiosity leads Salvo to learn more than he should . . . and he tries to change the course of history.

The book shines brightest when it develops the characters involved in ways that make them memorable and interesting. Mr. le Carré succeeds quite well with two of his characters, Salvo, and Haj, one of the potential participants in the coup plot. The other characters seem hurried and thin in their portrayals.

The plot is hard to follow. If you don't like dense plots, skip this book.

If you like dense portrayals of psychological manipulation, you'll adore this book. The development of the various relationships and negotiations are quite well done.

The end of the book will delight some and outrage others. It's more of a political statement than the end of a novel. But much of what is said about statecraft today has become politicized, so cloak-and-dagger stories should not be immune.

Many people don't like irony in their novels. It strikes them as off-key story-telling rather than irony. The Mission Song has such a rich vein of irony that you will find yourself marveling at its pervasiveness. If you can accept the irony for what it is, you'll love this book.
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on 5 January 2014
As I love the spy genre, I've always been a fan of John le Carre's books but for some reason had missed this one when it first came out. However, having read it now on my Kindle, I can report that it is an excellent read. The author captures the 'voice' of Salvo, the main character, originally from the Congo, beautifully. The reader is engaged very quickly and the narrative moves at a steady pace when Salvo, a talented multi-linguist, occasionally employed by British Intelligence in a low-key role, finds himself approached by a shadowy organisation to do some serious translating at a secret location and becomes involved in the murky world of international espionage. And while it is by no means le Carre's greatest work it is nevertheless an absorbing and thought-provoking read, made all the more so by the author's wonderful use of language and his inside knowledge of the workings of the intelligence services. There is a strong moral dimension to the story, highly relevant to our contemporary lives and, despite the inevitable conclusion and Salvo's fate, allows for some optimism, though the author's anger at the duplicitous nature of how governments work is very clear. It made a really good holiday read. Highly recommended. Gordon Minto
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on 22 September 2007
"The Mission Song" is a great book, somewhat along the same lines as "The Tailor of Panama". John le Carré depicts the harsh reality of some of the human species' least admirable traits, presenting them as seen through the eyes of loveable but misguided and idealistic individuals. And despite the tragedy of the situation he maintains a positive and often humorous tone.

I was planning on writing a full review of "The Mission Song", but after reading the wonderful review by Philip Caputo of the Washington Post (see the www.amazon.com site under Editorial Reviews), I figured that it would make more sense to simply recommend that review.

"... corporate giants that know no boundaries, moral or geographical", remarks Mr. Caputo, and he's hit the nail on the head. One wonders sometimes of our future, when all of the raw materials have been plundered and the environment destroyed.

I do have a few remarks about the audio version of "The Mission Song", read by David Oyelowo, a British actor of Nigerian descent. When I started listening to this book I was thinking, "what a poor reader, it sounds like he's half-asleep!" Very dull and almost monotone, especially at the very beginning.

It turns out that this was an intentional technique. Bruno "Salvo" Salvador tells the story in the first person, and at one point he remarks that he is proud that he has made his English as characterless as possible, so nobody will think he's trying to sound upper-class or as if he belongs to any particular group of Englishmen. Furthermore, once you get to the end of the story you realize that there is a good reason why Salvo tells the story in a rather tired and depressed voice.

But the amazing thing about David Oyelowo's reading is the dialog. As soon as anybody other than Salvo is talking he comes alive, and his rendering of the many African and English dialects is fantastic. I was totally blown away listening to The Mwangaza telling of his dreams for the Congo. Here's where a good audio book is far better than the printed version.

In summary, "The Mission Song", like "The Tailor of Panama" (also highly recommended), is not a spy story. It is a story about human character and how we humans create our own tragedy, and the optimistic attitude we need to survive this truth. We end up thinking, "Good luck, Salvo", and good luck to us all.

Rennie Petersen
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on 8 November 2007
I would agree with other reviewers on this site that The Mission Song is not one of Le Carre's best. In fact, comparing it to The Constant Gardener, it is almost hard to believe they are written by the same author. However, Le Carre on an off day is so much better than so many of his contemporaries that even a novel as flawed as this is worthy of four stars.

The Mission Song is narrated in the first person by Bruno Salvador - Salvo - a self confessed 'top interpreter' who is nevertheless naive and impressionable. Having just met the love of his life, he eagerly accepts a commission to translate for a shady conference that, he is told and he willingly believes, will save his native Congo. Of course, things are not what they seem.

So far, so Le Carre. Yes, the plot is predictable, but let's face it, most plots are. Given that the majority of the book is set in London or the nameless island where the conference takes place, I found The Mission Song lacked that transporting touch that characterises much of Le Carre's work. You may also find Salvo's somewhat florid speech and blind devotion to authority figures rather tiresome. But overall, The Mission Song is better than much of the dross that you'll find in the bookshops these days.
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on 15 December 2007
This maybe is a familiar tale, but Le Carre ensures the reader is left in no doubt that the UK government, big business are at the heart of the coup and the American's are lurking like a shadow in the deep background. The book like the Constant Gardener highlights the problems with Africa, and offers little hope. The thriller has periods of fast paced excitement and genuine tension. However the genius of this book is the lage section on the African delegates trying to reconcile long held grudges with each other, for what appears at first to be for peace but ultimately for their own greed. These days its easy to point the finger at the hopeless basketcases that make up much of this part of the world, Le Carre highlights the West appalling continued plundering of the continent and our hidden support for the dictators who remain sucking out what is left. Bono could do with reading this next time before he sits down with his new Christian mates in the White house!!! And if you missed Tino Georgiou's--The Fates--I strongly recommend reading it.
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on 3 December 2006
Bruno Salvador, the narrator and protagonist of THE MISSION SONG, is an interpreter, fluent in numerous African languages, who usually works for hospitals or corporations in London. But on a special freelance job, he learns of a plot to overthrow the government in the Eastern Congo. Salvo believes that this plot, which is driven by Western greed and enabled by corrupt African politicians and warlords, will only produce more anarchy and death in this region. Further, he is outraged by the venality of this scheme, which rips off the area's beleaguered African citizens. In this seamless and exciting novel, Le Carre shows Salvo, a naïve idealist, courageously maneuvering to defeat this scheme.

THE MISSION SONG is a fun and involving read with the careerist Salvo facing a corrupt, ruthless, and nameless syndicate that has both the will and know-how to obliterate him. As is common in Le Carre's recent novels, a question posed by this protagonist is: Can the actions of a brave idealistic amateur make a difference?

Over the years, I've read many Le Carre novels. At their best, these feature rich irony, surprising plots, and sardonic humor. While THE MISSION SONG is strong in these qualities, it also does two things very well that reviewers often overlook in Le Carre.

First, Le Carre is terrific when he writes about meetings. Meetings, as we all know, lack narrative drive and are frequently aggravating, diffuse, and time wasting. But in Le Carre, a meeting is a riveting plot point in which the pace is taut and the interaction is fascinating on many levels. This special talent brings Le Carre inside modern experience like few contemporary writers.

Second, Le Carre is a considerate narrator who creates moments when characters, without breaking the flow, summarize the plot. In THE MISSION SONG, this keeps a complex story from becoming vague. Yes, this is hand-holding for lazy readers. But this is also Le Carre's adjustment to readers like me, who have time to read only a few chapters every day and need plot summaries to re-enter the story.

Thanks for everything, John.
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on 18 August 2007
I bought this because I so enjoyed reading `The Constant Gardener'. The theme of 'The Mission Song' - Western exploitation of an African country - is admirable and the writing as clear and fluent as any other Le Carre, but I found the story tedious in its detail. In particluar the word-for-word description of a meeting on some unnamed island struck me as too long and laboured. Eventually the story did get going again but I have to say it took some perseverance to reach that point and even then I found the ensuing chapters disappointingly predictable.

Although well-written and clever, this did not seem to me to be up to Le Carre's previous work. Unless you're into detailed political negotiation I really wouldn't bother.
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Between elections, most voters are quite skeptical about leading politicians in the democracies. Near to an election, that skepticism turns into a temporary love affair with hope in the form of a politician who strikes us as a good person. In the Mission Song, John le Carré takes dead aim at our near-election naiveté and sinks the throwing spear in deep into our psyches.

The narrator of The Mission Song is a minor character in the world of cloak-and-dagger, Bruno Salvador (Salvo), an interpreter who sometimes does little jobs for the British secret service when obscure East Congo languages are involved. But Salvo is also us, the every person who wants to do her or his duty in the name of goodness and democracy. Salvo comes by his languages naturally, both as a talent and as part of his life growing up in Africa. To some Africans, he's a "zebra," a person who has both white and black parentage. His father was an Irish Catholic missionary, which means that Bruno began life hidden away from his true parentage.

His language skills and the support of the Church enable Salvo to come to England and ply his trade. With spectacular good looks, he attracts a wealthy white bride whose career is zooming among the tabloids of Fleet Street. But he doesn't feel like he fits into the marriage or his wife's world.

Salvo's life takes a tremendous turn when he falls for an East Congolese nurse while interpreting for a dying man in hospital. She shares her body and her faith in moderate leadership for the East Congo.

On his way to his wife's moment of triumph, Salvo doesn't even take time to wash off the scents of his new woman. He's a man filled with passion. A surprise call from his secret employers pulls him into a rush job to translate official as well as bugged conversations to help create a revolt in the East Congo. In the course of this role, his curiosity leads Salvo to learn more than he should . . . and he tries to change the course of history.

The book shines brightest when it develops the characters involved in ways that make them memorable and interesting. Mr. le Carré succeeds quite well with two of his characters, Salvo, and Haj, one of the potential participants in the coup plot. The other characters seem hurried and thin in their portrayals.

The plot is hard to follow. If you don't like dense plots, skip this book.

If you like dense portrayals of psychological manipulation, you'll adore this book. The development of the various relationships and negotiations are quite well done.

The end of the book will delight some and outrage others. It's more of a political statement than the end of a novel. But much of what is said about statecraft today has become politicized, so cloak-and-dagger stories should not be immune.

Many people don't like irony in their novels. It strikes them as off-key story-telling rather than irony. The Mission Song has such a rich vein of irony that you will find yourself marveling at its pervasiveness. If you can accept the irony for what it is, you'll love this book.
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