The great espionage novelist John le Carre has been writing books for close to half a century but sadly, until recently I’ve never read one. Although I’ve seen two films based on his books, the classic The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and the more recent The Constant Gardner, somehow for whatever reason his books have escaped me. Until now. Recently, a co-worker loaned me his copy of John le Carre’s The Mission Song. After letting it languish unread near my bed for several months I decided to give it a shot. After finishing it the other day I’m glad I did. For the most part the book moved quickly, held my interest and told an intriguing story of international greed and deceit.
Written in the first person, it’s the tale of Bruno Salvador, an up and coming interpreter for the British foreign service. Bruno, the son of an Irish-French Catholic Priest and a local Congolese woman, specializes in the obscure languages of eastern Congo. Whisked away one night by British agents from his wife’s formal reception, he is flown to a secret meeting on unnamed island in the North Sea. There, agents of a shadowy “syndicate” of Western multinationals and mercenaries attempt to broker an alliance between rival Congolese warlords and a charismatic reformer, (known by his nome de guerre “the Enlightened One”). As events unfold, Bruno is forced to choose between dutifully serving his paymasters and their ultimate agents in the British government or trying to do what he feels is in the best interests his former countrymen in his native Congo.
Although things get a bit convoluted toward the last third of the book, overall I thought le Carre’s novel was fairly entertaining and made for a nice break from all the nonfiction I’ve been reading of late. The Mission Song contains its share of betrayal and loss of innocence, just as one would expect from le Carre. Some readers might spot a few of le Carre’s allusions to the infamous Dreyfus Affair which rocked France during the turn of the last century. The Mission Song left me wanting to read more books about the plight of Africa. I think the perfect follow-up book would be Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe by Gerard Prunier. I’ve been wanting to read Prunier’s book ever since I saw it featured in a “Library Loot” posting on Eva’s A Striped Armchair.
By the way, in case you like audio books, I discovered there’s an audio version of this read by Nigerian-born British actor David Oyelowo, who played Danny on the BBC series Spooks, ( called MI-5 here in the States).