- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Random House (February 12, 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812998952
- ISBN-13: 978-0812998955
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 41 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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American Spy: A Novel Hardcover – February 12, 2019
"Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" by Lori Gottlieb
"Wise, warm, smart, and funny. You must read this book." ―Susan Cain, New York Times bestselling author of "Quiet" Pre-order today
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“An expertly written spy thriller . . . that tackles issues of politics, race and gender . . . Like the best of John le Carré, it’s extremely tough to put down. It marks the debut of an immensely talented writer who’s refreshingly unafraid to take risks, and has the skills to make those risks pay off.”—NPR
“For the novel’s engaging intelligence and serious reckoning with the world’s postwar order, Wilkinson deserves the comparisons to John le Carré she’s already receiving. But in bringing a virtually unheard-from fictional viewpoint to espionage literature, she has reinvigorated the genre.”—Time
“It might seem hyperbolic to say that this book is riveting and thrilling from the very first page, except that it totally is. . . . It’s a refreshing take on an espionage story—No icy Russian tundra! A black female spy!—that’s sexy and suspenseful in equal measure.”—Samantha Irby, Marie Claire
“Wilkinson takes readers down a path of danger, seduction and patriotism.”—Essence
“Lauren Wilkinson reminds us of a less-covered side of the Cold War with her debut set in 1986 Africa. FBI agent Marie Mitchell is stationed in Burkina Faso, and when she’s assigned to shadow Thomas Sankara, ‘Africa’s Che Guevara,’ the personal, political and professional collide for her in unforgettable ways.”—The Washington Post
“A complex and powerful work . . . The espionage plot that eventually drives the action is only one component in this ambitious, multifaceted novel.”—Shelf Awareness
“An excellent spy novel that is unlike every other spy novel I’ve read. . . . This is a great read for fans of literary mystery, character driven novels, and historical fiction–especially focusing on history that never gets taught.”—Book Riot
“A gutsy new thriller . . . challenging boundaries is what brave fiction does, and Wilkinson proves confident enough to carry it off.”—The New York Times
“American Spy updates the espionage thriller with blazing originality.”—Entertainment Weekly
“[In] this genre-defying novel . . . Marie’s journey into the moral and spiritual morass of espionage is inventive . . . Unlike the heroes of John Le Carré’s novels, Marie must also grapple with the cognitive dissonance of serving a country in which she is regarded as a second-class citizen.”—Vulture, The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)
“An excitingly sharp debut novel by the talented newcomer Lauren Wilkinson . . . Rest assured that American Spy will not only keep you turning the pages, it will do much more than that. Wilkinson steeps her thriller in a complicated awareness of huge, thorny themes: race, Cold War amorality, the politics of our intelligence services and the ease with which we can become complicit with deeds we actually abhor.”—NPR “Fresh Air”
About the Author
Lauren Wilkinson earned an MFA in fiction and literary translation from Columbia University, and has taught writing at Columbia and the Fashion Institute of Technology. She was a 2013 Center for Fiction Emerging Writers Fellow, and has also received support from the MacDowell Colony and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Wilkinson grew up in New York and lives on the Lower East Side. This is her first novel.
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Marie is the younger of two sisters. Helene, now dead, was five years older and Marie's idol. It had been Helene's ambition to join the CIA and later form her own private intelligence agency. And that's what has led Marie to the FBI, and ultimately to agree to two assignments from the Company. Except, as we'll learn later, they might not have come from the CIA at all.
From New York to Martinique to Burkina Faso
In American Spy, the action shifts rapidly and often from New York City to Martinique to Burkina Faso in flashbacks and flashforwards. Marie's FBI posting was in the City. Her family had come from Martinique, and her mother has returned there to live. And Marie's work for the CIA involves "getting close" to the dictator of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara.
Cold War rivalry in Africa lies at the heart of this story
Author Lauren Wilkinson has built her tale around real-world events that transpired in Burkina Faso. Her portrait of Sankara and her account of the actions he took as president of his country hew closely to the historical record. Sankara, and the country he tried so hard to reform, were victims of the Cold War between the US and the USSR.
Suspenseful, psychologically sound, and ultimately believable
Wilkinson's command of plotting and character development are both skillful. Obviously, she understands the discriminatory treatment that hidebound agencies like the FBI so commonly doled out in years past to women and people of color. American Spy is suspenseful, psychologically sound, and ultimately believable. It's all too typical of the Cold War rivalry that victimized so many small nations caught in the middle between two superpowers.
How another reviewer saw the book
In reviewing American Spy, NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan wrote in the Washington Post Book Review (February 15, 2019), "Lauren Wilkinson’s new novel, 'American Spy, is extraordinary in a lot of ways — most obviously because it places a female African American intelligence officer, Marie Mitchell, at the center of a Cold War tale of political espionage. But also striking is the novel’s deeper recognition that, to some extent, rudimentary tradecraft is something all of her African American characters have learned as an everyday survival skill. As Marie’s father wryly tells her on the day of her graduation from the FBI training academy at Quantico, 'I’ve been a spy in this country for as long as I can remember.'"
I found the book alright, thought that the secondary characters lacked depth, but overall readable.