It's no secret that the state of African politics is corrupt and dirty. Still reeling from decades of colonization by Western nations, riven by tribalIt's no secret that the state of African politics is corrupt and dirty. Still reeling from decades of colonization by Western nations, riven by tribal loyalties, brutally ruled by an ever-changing assortment of strongman rulers who can temporarily unite a people before collapsing into the ever-familiar patterns of megalomania and constructing their own cult of personality, the continent seems like the nearly perfect place to set a tale of intrigue and betrayal of the sort that John le Carre has been spinning for years. With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, le Carre lost his thematic touchstone and was forced to look beyond the Balkan settings of his famous spy novels. Some new settings have been found wanting, such as in his forgettable Tailor of Panama, while others have been positively inspired, such as in Absolute Friends, his look at the German revolutionaries of the late 60s and early 70s. Never, though, has he been able to weave a web of intrigue as well as he does when he's charting the recolonization of Africa by various corporate powers who manipulate desperate governments and corrupt militaries to win concessions to either pillage valuable resources for export to the all-consuming American maw, or to use these developing nations as test beds for new drugs and procedures that would never pass the scrutiny of any regulatory agency as he did in the masterful The Constant Gardener.
Not content to merely reveal the effects of those decisions made in secluded board rooms atop large skyscrapers and carried out in the backwater locales of the Congo, The Mission Song puts us in the room with these decision-makers as they weigh the worth of human lives against the possible profits to be squeezed from their blood-soaked land. Bruno Salvador, or Salvo to his friends, is the bastard son of an Irish priest and a Congolese woman who has used his extensive knowledge of various tribal languages to secure a much-valued post in the translation department of British Intelligence.
All goes swimmingly for Salvo until he is asked to serve as translator at a conference to be held at an undisclosed location for undisclosed African power brokers to hammer out the details of a new coup that will bring "peace" to his war torn homeland and enormous profits for the coup's faceless backers. Inadvertently overhearing (and recording) a torture session used to sway a recalcitrant plotter back into the conspiracy, Salvo realizes that this coup is just another aspect of business as usual for his masters. What follows is an exercise in futility as Salvo attempts to gain the ear of someone, anyone, in authority who can call off this coup before yet more blood is poured on the earth.
This is not the greatest le Carre that I've read, but neither is it the weakest. It has the feel of a dashed-off effort used to fulfill some contractual obligation more than as a labor of love- those stories that well up inside you and demand to be recounted. Still, it is a fast and entertaining read that provides all the suspense that le Carre is rightly renowned for. Perfect for reading in the park on a sunny day or at the beach as you keep half an eye on your wayward children....more
I was really torn about how to rate this book. On the one hand, it was a fun and thrilling adventure tale, the likes of which have been setting fire tI was really torn about how to rate this book. On the one hand, it was a fun and thrilling adventure tale, the likes of which have been setting fire to the minds of young children with visions of exotic and far-flung locales for centuries. I can well imagine the delight with which this ripping yarn was received by the readers of the 1880s. On the other hand, there is just so much omnipresent racism throughout the entire story that I found it endlessly distracting and offputting.
King Solomon's Mines is written as a personal recounting of a journey taken by three Englishmen into Deepest Darkest Africa. Narrated by Allan Quartermain (yes, the same Allan Quartermain from Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, evidently this was the source book for that character), a big game hunter who meets up with Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good who are searching for Curtis' brother, who went missing while looking for the fabled mines of the title. Quartermain just happens to have a map of the way to the mines so the trio decide to set off in search.
What follows is a rollicking good adventure. There are parched throats in the desert, freezing nights atop mountains, perilous encounters with the "dark savages" of the land, the toppling of a tyrannical king in a mythical African nation that reminded me of nothing so much as Wakanda, the homeland of the Marvel superhero Black Panther, witches, exquisite works of archeological wonder and enough diamonds to fund at least eight more genocides in modern Africa. Basically, this book had everything short of the kitchen sink (though the traveler's would likely have appreciated the immense convenience of one). Were it not for Haggard's persistant racism and harping on the dangers of miscegenation, I would have likely rated this higher. As is, it's still worth a reading as long as one takes it as a product of the times in which it was written....more
I enjoyed this novel a lot. It shed some light on the ancient pirate states of North Africa- Algiers, Tunisia, Tripoli, and Sallee- which I had previoI enjoyed this novel a lot. It shed some light on the ancient pirate states of North Africa- Algiers, Tunisia, Tripoli, and Sallee- which I had previously only known of in passing, particularly the Barbary Wars in Tripoli. Wilson did a fantastic job of digging up as many primary and secondary sources possible from such non-literary societies as well as charting the progress made within those Islamic societies by European pirates and renagadoes who would turn "Turk", or convert to Islam, to escape slavery and achieve a position of stature. Sometimes the story drags, as is true with most historical texts, but my major complaint comes with Wilson's fixation on pederasty within the Moroccan culture. One gets the impression that he is using historical examples of pederasts as a means of legitimizing some personal feelings of his own. I had first noticed this when I read his Temporary Autonomous Zone writings under the name Hakim Bey but at the time wrote it off. However, this book leaves no doubt. Wilson is fixated on justifying the behavior of pederasts and while I can understand the point that he is trying to make by constantly returning to this topic, it is only loosely related to the subject matter at hand, pirates, and just gets monotonous after a time....more