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The Mission Song: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – August 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bruno Salvo, the illegitimate son of an Irish missionary father and a Congolese mother, is one of le Carré's most interesting lead characters—and one of the most difficult for an actor to bring to life using just his voice. Fortunately, Oyelowo, a veteran of everything from televised comedy to live Shakespeare, has the ability to quickly catch and transmit to listeners the many elements of Bruno's essence in this moving and surprisingly amusing audio version of arguably the author's least typical novel. Oyelowo never falters in presenting the many other characters who flesh out the story, from the Roman mentor who shapes the orphaned Bruno's future as a professional interpreter of African tribal languages to the British intelligence agents who eventually recruit him. Oyelowo positively shines with recognizable truth as he shrewdly recreates Bruno's growing awareness of the power this knowledge gives him—personally, politically and socially. It would be difficult for any other actor, even one with more star power, to take Bruno Salvo into film or television without us hearing Oyelowo's voice in our heads while we watch.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 449 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; Reprint edition (August 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316016764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316016766
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.2 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,019,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John le Carre was born in 1931. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, secured him a worldwide reputation, which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy: Tinke, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People. His novels include The Little Drummer Girl, A Perfect Spy, The Russia House, Our Game, The Taileor of Panama, and Single & Single. John le Carre lives in Cornwall.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Eric Wilson on November 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Since the days of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "The Little Drummer Girl," I've followed le Carre's novels with heightened interest. Of late, however, he's lost me with an unfocused style. I picked up "The Mission Song" with skepticism.

Thankfully, I found here a story of undeniable appeal. The first-person narrator, Bruno Salvador, is an interpreter with an uneven marriage and on secret assignment with the British. His personality is more naive, more humorous and satirical, than most of le Carre's protagonists, lending the novel a lighter tone that still manages to make scathing remarks about western politics. The Bush and Blair administrations both get low marks here, and high-minded, white colonization is shown to be a greedy and violent proposition. Bruno, caught in a tug-of-war between his native allegiances and his British ties, must face the truth and consequences of his assignment. Is one secretive coup really intended for Eastern Congo's good? Or is there a more self-seeking motive behind the financial investment of the nebulous Syndicate?

Although we the readers never really doubt the motives of all involved, it's hard not to be swept along with Bruno's romantic (somewhat thinly drawn) and politic questions. This is a conflict that could relate to African scenarios two centuries ago or a decade in the future. It's a timeless tale, told with unflinching social remarks, while still remaining an entertaining story. Le Carre remembers to treat us as fiction readers, and not simply as a gathering of politicos. Once again, my interest is renewed, and I look forward to his next project.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on February 5, 2007
Format: Audio CD
In Le Carre's latest thriller, an expert interpreter of various African languages learns of a nefarious plot involving the Congolese government. At first I was intrigued with the fact that the protagonist Salvo is an interpreter. Nice twist, and I have some experience in both interpreting and in African language study (Swahili). But the narrator is so obsessed with his status that it becomes both distracting and annoying. Consider, for example, the following excerpts from the book: "I am...by profession a top interpreter of Swahili," "the code of your top interpreter is sacrosanct," "Never mistake, please, your mere translator for your top interpreter," "my top interpreter's ear," "your top interpreter responds without premeditation," "Salvo the top interpreter is there beside them," and there are many more. I mean, Come on!

A major portion of the book (maybe a third) takes place at a meeting of Congolese elites and European mercenaries making plans. The meeting drags on forever, and with the exception of a brief interlude of torture, it gets pretty tiresome. No action, no interesting suspense. In fact, it reminds me of many meetings I've attended (some of which have taken place in Africa); but that doesn't make it interesting writing. The plot doesn't really pick up until the last third of the book. At that point, it moves along at a decent clip.

The prose is okay but nothing special; I made the mistake of listening to this audiobook immediately after Jumpa Lahiri and before Margaret Atwood, two masterful wordsmiths. Lastly, some information at the end of the book leaves the reader feeling that much of the book was completely futile, which felt totally unsatisfying. All in all, the book had its moments and some interesting twists and turns along the way, but I was unimpressed.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Rennie Petersen on March 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"The Mission Song" is a great book, somewhat along the same lines as "The Tailor of Panama". John le Carré depicts the harsh reality of some of the human species' least admirable traits, presenting them as seen through the eyes of loveable but misguided and idealistic individuals. And despite the tragedy of the situation he maintains a positive and often humorous tone.

I was planning on writing a full review of "The Mission Song", but after reading the wonderful review by Philip Caputo of the Washington Post (see above under Editorial Reviews), I figured that it would make more sense to simply recommend that review.

"... corporate giants that know no boundaries, moral or geographical", remarks Mr. Caputo, and he's hit the nail on the head. One wonders sometimes of our future, when all of the raw materials have been plundered and the environment destroyed.

I do have a few remarks about the audio version of "The Mission Song", read by David Oyelowo, a British actor of Nigerian descent. When I started listening to this book I was thinking, "what a poor reader, it sounds like he's half-asleep!" Very dull and almost monotone, especially at the very beginning.

It turns out that this was an intentional technique. Bruno "Salvo" Salvador tells the story in the first person, and at one point he remarks that he is proud that he has made his English as characterless as possible, so nobody will think he's trying to sound upper-class or as if he belongs to any particular group of Englishmen. Furthermore, once you get to the end of the story you realize that there is a good reason why Salvo tells the story in a rather tired and depressed voice.

But the amazing thing about David Oyelowo's reading is the dialog.
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