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Customer Review

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Original and worthy, though could be more readable, 22 April 2009
This review is from: The Mission Song (Paperback)
For those who are familiar with Le Carre's books, this novel is in a similar vein to the excellent 'Constant Gardener'. A complex novel, requiring considerable concentration in the earlier sections particularly, it deals with the difficult themes of modern African politics and the often unsavoury involvement of Western powers.

It is narrated in the first person by Bruno Salvador, an intrepreter who becomes unwillingly dragged into a plotted coup in Central Africa involving tribal warloads, shady businessmen, and British secret services. It's a real slow starter, with the first two thirds taken up with the complex top secret negotiations that set up the more climatic ending.

Although it does give some of the DR Congo's complicated history, I found my limited prior knowledge (from having read Tim Butcher's non-fiction 'Blood River') really helped me to follow the plot. Even given that, it's not an easy read and is one you need to focus on, best read in big chunks rather than small snippets.

The principal character of 'Salvo' I found rather irritating at times, and his convoluted backstory a bit unneccessary. And even accepting that this is a thriller - where the limits of plausibility can be stretched further than I'd normally tolerate to make a good story - a couple of things went too far. The hardest to swallow was the affair that Salvo starts with a politically active nurse the night before he is dragged away on his top secret mission. The fact that only the night before he'd been indulging in pillow talk about the very men he was translating for seemed daft, and wasn't even necessary for plot purposes. I also found the whole instant love thing a bit over the top, and his attitude at times stupidly naive.

Despite this, the final part of the book is surprisingly gripping with a couple of good twists and the overall attempt to address these serious and not very palatable issues is a good one. Any book that brings to a wider attention the suffering in Eastern Congo can only be a good thing. I applaud Le Carre for mixing serious political and ethical issues in with his more familiar cloak-n-dagger stuff.

It's not as good as the Constant Gardener - which is in my opinion Le Carre's finest novel yet - but it is certainly original and sets a reasonable balance between the weighty topics and the need for a compelling story. Not perfectly, but certainly a worthy attempt. A must read for anyone interested in African politics.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Jun 2015 13:53:57 BDT
Good review. I didn't think the instant love thing was the hardest to believe, though. I thought his queen-and-country patriotism was odd, since he's the son of an Irish priest and a Congolese woman. The backstory sets out convincingly why he knows so many languages, but not why he's so patriotically british.

Posted on 26 Jun 2015 13:54:25 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 26 Jun 2015 13:54:38 BDT]
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