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The Mission Song
By John Le Carré

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The Mission Song

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The Mission Song
By John Le Carré
Little, Brown and Company Large Print, (2006)
Distributed by Thorndike Press
ISBN: 0-316-01772-8
Genre: Thriller

Reviewed by Herbert White - November 24, 2006

Born of an Irish-Catholic missionary and a Congolese woman, Bruno "Salvo" Salvador grows up to become a professional interpreter who specializes in lesser used African languages. Due to the unique nature of his skills, and his agile intelligence, Salvo's services are sought after by just about everyone, from law firms and immigration agencies to the British Intelligence apparatus. It is to government service that Salvo gravitates, working for them part-time, between his more lucrative private jobs. While working for the British Secret Service, he is tagged to go on a secret mission, a mission that will forever change his life.

The Mission Song, written by the esteemed author, John Le Carré, has lyrical quality about it. The story is passionate, funny, and thrilling. Interwoven into the story is a sweet love story between Salvo, and a Congolese nurse with whom he is having an affair. The story also delves into Salvo's rediscovery of his African heritage as he attempts to prevent travesity from being committed against the people of the East Congo formally known as Zaire). Is he at heart a Britisher, married to Penelope, a rich white woman and star newspaper reporter? Or is he a Congolese native who has, for far to long, denied his heritage? Salvo's conscience is pricked when he is sent to a North Sea British island to act as the translator during some intense meetings between Congolese warlords and a group of Western financiers known as The Syndicate.

On the surface, this meeting is being held with the best of intentions. Fatigued by long years of near civil war, disease, and a poor economy, the attendees at this meeting are trying to find a means by which to create a stable foundation upon which the Congo can recover and rebuild. The do-gooder Westerners and the patriotic warlords, are supposedly working for a joint cause. However each is working to impose their own brand democracy upon the Congo - for their own political and financial reasons. As Salvo begins to understand what is really going on, he finds his ethical and moral beliefs being called into question, and he finds that his world view is rapidly changing. As Salvo is forced out of his naivety, he sets out to become the savior of the Congolese people - a savior, whose goal is to save them from themselves, and from the Syndicate who is more interested in plundering the mineral wealth of the Congo, than in helping the Congolese people.

Salvo is a talented but flawed man. As such, his character is believable, and the moral dilemmas that he faces are realistic, as are his reactions to them. The plot is fairly straightforward. The Syndicate wants to make the Congo a safer place to do business, so that they can make more money, while the Warlords would like to consolidate their power, and to improve the economic and security situation in the Congo.

While not as powerful as Le Carre's Cold War novels, The Mission Song is still a top-rate novel by a remarkable writer. One of the most intriguing elements of this story is that not one single scene takes place in Africa. The entire story is set in Britain, on the island where the secretive meeting is held. The Mission Song is a wonderfully complex story, full of twists and turns, and one that will remind Le Carre's fans just why they have always enjoyed his books.

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