Monday, September 25

The Mission Song by John Le Carre

Review by Theodore Feit


You can't tell a book by its cover, it's said.  And you can't tell Le Carre by this book.  It is quite unlike anything in his past work.  It still contains the various elements of his craft--intrigue, suspense, deft twists—but is a far cry from the Cold War novels.


This is the story of the bastard son of a Catholic Missionary and an African woman, who grows up with an excellent ear for language.  He is brought to England and trained to hone his skills in the various African dialects, and has command of English and French.  He becomes the top interpreter in the service of Her Majesty's Government.   One day he receives an assignment to provide translation of participants in a secret meeting.


The ostensible purpose of the meeting is to solidify agreement between three conflicting groups in the eastern Congo to form an alliance to bring about the installation of a "savior" to end the exploitation of the region's natural resources, foster "democracy" and benefit the population.   Sponsor of the effort is an anonymous syndicate, proposing to sponsor the "event" in return for six months worth of exports.


In the performance of his duties as interpreter, Bruno Salvador ("Salvo") learns the result will be a war, and the death and destruction will be followed by business as usual, with graft and corruption as side deals.  He steals tapes of conversations proving the subterfuge and retains his copious notebooks and returns home.  There are 12 days until the kickoff of the putsch, and he attempts in various ways to head it off.


The story includes Salvo's own conflicts as a half-white/half-black, a meaningless marriage and a newfound love in an African nurse.  As it moves to an unexpected conclusion, the plot takes various turns as Salvo (and his paramour) try to get the evidence in proper hands to prevent the coming conflict.  It is a tale worthy of Mr.  LeCarre writing as only he can.


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