three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-The Mission SongBruno "Salvo" Salvador, 29, the orphaned son of an Irish Catholic missionary and a Congolese woman, has a gift for language. Salvo’s parentage marks him in society, despite his having married an upper-class Englishwoman and tabloid journalist. His position is further threatened by an affair with a Congolese nurse in London. As an interpreter of impeccable reputation, however, Salvo becomes privy to information that involves him in a coup that would establish a puppet government in the Congo, his long-suffering homeland, and take advantage of the nation’s resources. Salvo must decide whether to follow the plan—or his conscience.
Little, Brown. 339 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 0316016748

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Like Our Game in 1995, this new novel is engaging, masterfully told, but, in the end, it’s a minor le Carré. Even so, The Mission Song offers an emotional resonance that stays with a reader long after the book is done." Charles Oberndorf

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Its second half then plays variations on a theme present in many le Carré books: brave individuals tilting at the windmills of huge, implacably evil organizations. … One mark of le Carré’s skill is that this essentially static setting results in such dynamic writing, detailing the faintly ludicrous minutiae of diplomacy." Adam Woog

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Le Carré skillfully draws an idealistic character less than half his age, but the reader may find, as I did, Salvo’s gullibility difficult to accept. … The Mission Song is a minor work compared with le Carré’s big Cold War novels, but his skepticism, compassion, and sense of moral outrage are as much in evidence here as in A Perfect Spy or The Honorable Schoolboy." Philip Caputo

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The problem with The Mission Song is in its second part, in which le Carré is obliged to provide a lengthy rendering of the secret conclave." Richard Schickel

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"As if to defy his critics … The Mission Song, engages the complexity of contemporary international relations by focusing on the language that expresses it—the language of diplomatic obfuscation and corporate newspeak. … At times the effort to refract [Salvo’s] experiences through the lens of his skill with language can feel forced." Neil Gordon

Chicago Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"About two-thirds of the way through the novel, Salvador begins to act on certain conflicting loyalties he feels about the plan in his own mind, hoping to save the people of Kivu Province, and Congo, from disaster. … The setting appears to be symptomatic of a deeper malaise on le Carré’s part." Alan Cheuse

Boston Globe 1.5 of 5 Stars
"It is sad to report that what The Mission Song does not do much of is sing." Sam Allis

Critical Summary

The Mission Song, John le Carré’s 20th novel in a career spanning nearly half a century, most famously in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1964), receives mixed marks. Critics who enjoy the novel praise le Carré’s intricate plotting, atmospheric settings, and his ear for dialogue—all the trademark riffs of the undisputed master of the Cold War thriller now setting his sights on new enemies. Those who detect a misfire here focus on the torturous complexity of the story and a confusing structure. Bottom line: Readers of le Carré will recall why they gravitated to his work in the first place; first-timers might have difficulty with the sometimes improbable twists and turns that impede a good spy story.