Wednesday, May 06, 2009


The Mission Song, John Le Carre, Little Brown and Company, 2006, 352 pp

I enjoyed this book all the way through. Bruno Salvador is an interpreter, fluent in French, Swahili and several minor African languages as well as English. Salvo, as he is known to his friends and co-workers, was born in the eastern Congo, the love-child of an Irish Catholic missionary and a Congolese village woman, and raised in an African convent as a "secret child." Due to the kindnesses of several pedophile priests, Salvo ended up in London, was educated and turned his gift for languages into a well paying career as an interpreter, while acquiring a white wife from the British upper classes who herself had a rising career in journalism.

Occasionally Salvo works for the British Secret Service and considers this work an important part of his patriotism as a British citizen. Bus as his marriage is crumbling, as Salvo begins a love affair with a Congolese nurse at a London hospital, he is assigned by his Secret Service handler to attend a conference in the Congo. The purported purpose of this conference is to bring peace to the war torn country, along with democracy and self rule. Naturally, that is not at all what is going on because the funding for all this is coming from multinational western financiers and we all know that such machinators are only interested in one thing.

Once back in the Congo, all of Salvo's childhood memories awaken (hence the title of the book) along with his awareness of what is being planned and we are away into Le Carre's territory of intrigue, thrills and spies. The story finally gets going at about 100 pages and those first 100 pages turn out to be crucial. Salvo's and his lover Hannah's characters have become familiar in all their complexity and their back stories revealed, so that as Salvo loses his innocence, as well as all his status in English society, the reader feels everything along with him.

The writing is excellent and carries a perfect balance of outrage and humor. I was glad I'd read such books as Robert Ruark's Something of Value and the novels of Doris Lessing which are set in South Africa, giving me background on the kind of shenanigans that go on in Africa.

Overall, The Mission Song was an entertaining novel with just enough depth and got me through a trying time in my personal life.

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