The Mission Song: A Novel

by John Le Carré

Hardcover, 2006

Call number




Little, Brown and Company (2006), Edition: First Edition, 352 pages


Working as an interpreter for British Intelligence, Bruno Salvador, the abandoned son of an Irish father and Congolese mother, is sent to a mysterious island to interpret a secret conference among Central African warlords.

Media reviews

“The Mission Song” illuminates with animated personifications a portion of the globe’s daily misery that tends to be, in American news, at least, murky and abstract.

User reviews

LibraryThing member idiotgirl
I listened to his as an audiobook. This was a book initially difficult to listen to. Nothing much happens. Salvo, the first person narrator, is an interpreter, working for British secret service, and this is about what he hears and renders to others, from a variety of languages. This is supposed to
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be about simple representation,realism, represent what he hears. He does that, with great skill. But eventually he inserts himself into the story, tries to disrupt the story he repeats. I liked this more than the Constant Gardener (though much less happens) because LeCaree manages to displace his anger and belief about Africa onto the African characters. The first person narrative personalizes everything--and ironically brings more distance and narrative plausibility for le Carre. He's not an easy author--given his genre. Despite the difficulty of listening to this and making sense, I liked this book a great deal. I keep reading (and listening to) LeCarre.
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LibraryThing member blh518
I admire the way Le Carre continues to highlight new areas of espionage opportunity since his Cold War world is lost to him. In The Mission Song he has created a typical Le Carre protagonist in Bruno Salvador - a man under constraint, waiting to leap blindly at the opportunity to travel beyond the
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normal boundaries. If there is one thing that is predictable, it is that no good will come of this.

Salvador, a "top translator" of English, French and several African languages, leading a carefully arranged life, is passionate about his African homeland, and, as the book opens, has just fallen in love with an African woman. He is given the opportunity to translate for a mysterious syndicate holding a conference at a concealed location to arrange an event that affects the Congo. As he translates, he pieces together the plan and attempts to interfere with it.

Salvador encounters quite a few of the sort of characters Le Carre writes in his sleep - spell-spinning high-flyers and silent tough guys. But he also meets one slightly more original young man who might be his more worldly doppelganger.

There are, not unusually, father and son themes worked out in the story. The one element that I felt was handled a bit clumsily was the love affair.

I would agree that Salvador's final actions are not guided by Smiley-like sagacity, but Salvador is impulsive, and for all of his ability to translate words and nuance to others, he is singularly unable to hear and understand the people who hold his own future in their hands.
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LibraryThing member dbeveridge
When John le Carre is not writing the best spy novels of all time, he finds a place and an outrage in the world of which most of us are blissfully unaware, and tosses into it an idealistic and imperfect soul or two just trying to be good people. In this case, the place and the outrage are the Congo
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and the forces of world Capitalism; and the innocents a pair of lovers who are trying to influence the struggle between them. And in the tradition of le Carre and Graham Greene and the great British spy novelists, guess who wins.
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LibraryThing member kevinashley
Easy reading, as Le Carre always is, and rewarding for it. I felt this was a lighter work in many ways than others of his I have read: lighter in plot, as it really revolves around the events of a single day (or less), although there is a certain amount of prequel and postlude. But also lighter in
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tone in parts, in that there is more humour here than in many of his other works, combined with the anger which his later works display to great effect. That lightness is transient, though - the overall message is a dark and somewhat bleak one, but don't let that put you off - this is excellent and rewarding reading.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
Engaging and very well written.
LibraryThing member TheoClarke
Disappointing novel with an interesting premise diminished by its implausible plot. The protagonist was engaging and interesting but his circumstances were not credible. Worse than that, the whole thing was unmemorable: I was lent a second copy by an enthusiastic friend and, although I recognised
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the plot as it unfolded, it took me some time to recall the plot and I felt no sense of loss as I abandoned the rereading.
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LibraryThing member John5918
This is quite different from the vintage le Carre Cold War spy thrillers. The plot is not so convoluted and the main character is very different. For a spy novel it shows a reasonable understanding of the dynamics of the Great Lakes region of Africa.
LibraryThing member franoscar
A short (for him) novel, told in the voice of the son of a Congolese mother and a white Catholic-priest father; he is a superstar interpreter. he gets caught up in a plot to organize a coup in East Congo to provide stability there, maybe, and huge profits for some companies, & he & his new
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Congolese girlfriend try to figure out how to stop it. There are lots of words & counterwords & I'm not sure what ultimately happened & who betrayed who. The language is very convoluted & the secret agents/mercenaries talk in that stylized John Le Carre way. One review said the narrator/hero is so naive you can't quite stay with him & I agree with that. Also there are a lot of stock characters.
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LibraryThing member reading_fox
Not one of his best works.

Half-caste Bruno Salvador prtly hails from teh Eastern Congo, and has a very skilled facilty with languages that make him ore thanjust a translater but a valued interpreter. A Catholic background has prepared him to serve his country and so he offers his skills to HMG in
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the translation of radio intercepts. One day his boss recommends him for a more active role. To Bruno's great delight this interpretaing for some delegates planning a mission of mercy in the eastern Congo, with the added bonus of a few mining concessions. However what he learns doesn't please him and his naiveity is stuning.

A very ntypical read, this is le carre in is lightest and most accessible manner, A cheerful happy dialog keeps the plot roling along, much unlike his more normal heavier works. It also means there is very little intregue. Told in a fairly strict first person view the observations and African backgrounds are charming, but verall could have done with quite a bit more depth.
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LibraryThing member co_coyote
John le Carré has been concentrating on Africa lately, and here is another political thriller from one of the best writers in this genre. There is nothing particularly special about this book, but it did fill the hours of a long, trans-Atlantic flight, which was its sole purpose.
LibraryThing member TadAD
This is my first foray into le Carré and I have to say that I was vastly underwhelmed. Some day, I'll try either The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to see if this was just a clunker in an otherwise good author, or whether he is just not for me.

The first issue I have
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with the novel is the pacing. I listened to this as an audio book. It was 9 CDs long. Though the blurb billed this is a combination of a number of novel types (more on this in a moment), one of which was a thriller...absolutely nothing in the thriller department happened until the last minute or two of the fifth CD. We were about 55% of the way through the book before we got out of setting up the story. Now, I like a good build-up as much as anyone, but this was just absurd. Essentially, half the book is devoted to our protagonist...a man whom I cannot like as he is so puffed up with his own self-importance as a "top translator" (this phrase is omnipresent in the book)...making sure the reader admires how clever he is, and flying to a conference where he assures the other characters that he is really quite competent.

Which brings me to the second problem I have with the book. There's barely a character to like in it. The main character is a pompous ass who is as thick as a stump. You know those horror movies where the audience is yelling, "Don't go down into the cellar alone, you idiot!" Well, those moments abound in this book. You would think that Bruno would realize by...oh...say the third time he decides that this person involved in the conspiracy must be honorable and so he'll confess that he eavesdropped, only to get burned, that maybe he's a total incompetent when it comes to judging people? The majority of the remaining characters being the bad guys, about the only character I would want to associate with would be Hannah, a bit player.

Beyond this, the book doesn't seem to be able to figure out what it wants to be. As I noted, the blurb calls it a novel of someone discovering his beliefs mixed with a thriller with a little romance.

Calling it a thriller is a large overstatement. Once we get to it, we have a few minutes of thriller material, then we have a long wind down with absolutely no tension whatsoever. The bad guys don't even threaten our hero, for goodness sakes! The reader sees every situation coming from pages away.

Saying there's a romance in it also overstates the case. Basically, the romance can be summed up thusly: (married) protagonist tells us he met a nurse at the hospital last night and then spent the night having sex, protagonist has almost-hallucinatory dreams about her for a couple days, couple meets again and each declares undying love to the other. There's not a whole lot of depth beyond that.

Finally, the part about Bruno turning from the West and discovering his African sensibilities—the problem is that the author has never made us see any conflict between these two viewpoints. Bruno isn't presented as a jingoistic fellow—my country right or wrong—who, upon learning about the conspiracy to rape the Congo suddenly discovers another side of himself. No, he's presented as a rather ordinary man who is anxious to serve his adopted Great Britain but, upon learning that non-governmental forces in Great Britain are the bad guys, decides to oppose them. Where's the conflict? It's pretty much what one would expect of any person.

It was the only audio book on a long drive, so I didn't stop listening. If I had, this wouldn't even have rated 2 stars. I've never managed to pick up a le Carré in the past but I always assumed that I would be pleased once I got around to it.

I was quite wrong.
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LibraryThing member sinaloa237
Pleasant book on Africa but far from Le Carré at his best...
Not everything is gone with cold war as The constance gardener proved it, but Smiley's books are surely more compelling than this one!
LibraryThing member thorold
This is Le Carré at his usual trick of building a thriller out of the low-key, banal and bureaucratic. Tinker, Tailor... was all about files; this one focusses on a conference interpreter. (Didn't Nicholas Freeling write a thriller about an interpreter a long time ago?) Unfortunately, Salvo's
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character is a bit unconvincing, while the plot is too implausible for words. There is no sensible reason for the organisers of the conspiracy to use the same interpreter for translating the delegates' bugged conversations and at the conference table. Especially an interpreter with no previous experience of clandestine work, who may well be known to the delegates (how many specialists in East Congolese languages can there be in London?). Oh, and he has a sentimental affection for the region the conspirators are plotting to exploit, and his wife is a newspaper reporter. The obvious man for the job!
Anyway, why have an interpreter at the conference table, interacting with the delegates, at all? In real life they sit anonymously in little glass boxes and talk into microphones.
Le Carré can do better than this, and you wouldn't have thought that he has any need to churn out pot-boilers at this stage in his career.
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LibraryThing member fourbears
The beginning and the end of this novel are superb. Le Carre at his best, mixing a thriller plot with humor and biting social criticism. The middle is a confusing mess of African characters, causes, and conspiracies—it’s hard to follow and sometimes tedious. Le Carre creates a marvelous
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character, Bruno Salvador (“Salvo”) who’s the son of an bog Irish priest who served his whole life in the Congo and a Congolese woman who was sent back to her village after the birth. After his father’s death, by a fluke Salvo is declared a British citizen and sent to a Catholic school in Surrey were he was raised by Brother Michael, who uses him sexually but sees to his education using funds from his own rich Catholic family. His dying gift, Aunt Imelda’s watch, plays a significant role in the novel. As the book begins, the naïve but likable Salvo (who narrates his own story) is a top notch translator, speaking not only English, French and Swahili, but most of the dialects of the Congo as well. He’s much in demand in London where he’s married to socialite Penelope, rising newspaper star who married him to peak her father. It’s clear she’s regretting her decision and Salvo doesn’t seem too heart broken though he moves heaven and earth to be on time to a do at the paper honoring an award she’s received. He has to leave the Congolese nurse, Hannah, he’s just met and fallen in love with, though, on a job to translate for a dying man in a North London hospital. Arriving at the party, he’s whisked off by his British government employer with an extra special job for him—one for which he has to sign the Official Secrets Act.
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LibraryThing member labontea
I was interested in the topic, too bad I'm not interested in trashy writing. At least Stephen King tries to write well at least in the beginning of his books. Le Carre jumps into the crap writing from the very start. Bored. Stopped reading.
LibraryThing member John_Vaughan
As a life-long devotee of John le Carre's work - about the only fiction I will read other than Graham Greene - I was very excited when my young professor son told me a new book had been released. I ordered it immediately and a few days later sat down excepting to consume it in one of my typical le
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Carre `one sitting' reading - in fact it took two days, on and off.
As you can probably tell by that lead in, I was actually rather disappointed. While sympathetic to Africa and its problems the book is not `vintage' le Carre and proved one of the very few of his works that will not likely be read again (and again) and not recommended to my sons to add to their collections. It is always a conundrum this; when authors, needing to develop their skills and stretch the genre, explore new characters, offer a fresh approach, and then their regular readership - almost guaranteed by the previous work - then miss the well-loved characters, or an echo of the ideas from the previous books.
Recognizing that conflict then, and stepping aside from my usual expectations of John's work, it is of course extremely well crafted fiction and it may lead novel readers into the main body of his work with its demands for a dedicated, thoughtful, reader.
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LibraryThing member joeltallman
The writing is, as usual, faultless, and the politics hard to argue with. But the hero does a couple of really, really foolish things in the last third of the novel that spoiled it for me...even though it does offer a fine conclusion.
LibraryThing member aulsmith
I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by David Ovelowo.

I enjoyed this story of a naif Afro-British interpreter who wants to serve God and country by helping the British secret service with difficult translation problems, only to find out that their God and country are not his.

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story of politics in the Congo were right out of the newspaper (quite literally -- the New York Times had a background article on the Congo's problems the day before I started this book). Le Carre gives you insight into the multi-dimensional problems of the local groups without making any of them into bad guys. The narrator did an excellent job of giving voice to the various Africans from tribal leaders to European-educated scions of rich African players.
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LibraryThing member sparemethecensor
I am a big leCarre fan, but unfortunately I didn't feel this book was quite up to his usual standard. There was substantially less intrigue and maneuvering than usual, and I felt like many of the narrative passages meant to "teach" me about Africa dragged on rather too long. Additionally, I found
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Salvo's relationship with Hannah somewhat implausible, especially toward the beginning.

I did love Salvo's observations of London society and his scathing assessment of the U.K.'s meddling in international affairs -- something that I am sure reflects leCarre's own opinions, given his position of other conflicts in other novels (such as the Afghan/Iraq wars in Absolute Friends). Perhaps a more careful editing of this novel would have sped it along a bit more.

I listened to this book on audiotape, and I loved, absolutely loved, the narrator's voice. Him, I can recommend wholeheartedly!
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LibraryThing member Caralj
While almost everyone who has reviewed this novel by LeCarre was disappointed by his non-Smiley, main character, Bruno Salvador (Salvo), I loved the fact that it was far removed from his other, cold, distant Smiley novels!

What first got my interest was the fact that the protagonist was an
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interpreter (I am one also!)---not the usual MI-6 character. Still the novel was intriguing, a bit complicated at times with the back-and-forth but revealing a little more about his main character all the way to the very end.

Yes, it is a bit of a removal from his earlier novels, but that is precisely why I liked it! It shows that LeCarre can write outside of his usual USA-British-Russia spy novels.

Lovely writing and took me at a olympic bobsled speed throughout the novel.
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LibraryThing member patriciamoss
Colonial politics continue on the African continent, complete with mercenaries doing the bidding of the ruling class.
LibraryThing member sianpr
An interesting idea but the plot didn't really come together in this story of a multilingual interpreter who attempts to foil a coup in the Congo backed by some shady British politicians. There's a love story on the side, a wife who is a high flying journalist - not at all clear why this
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relationship was in the story, and a twist at the end. oK beach read.
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LibraryThing member BooksForDinner
This was one of those books where all along I am marveling at how good a writer the author is while not loving the story.

Classic le Carre` with the very strong main character... a lot of subtlety during the negotiation scenes... lots of digressions and backstory and character speeches... I love le
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Carre`, but I just liked this one. Plus I don't think I could have liked the character of Hannah much less. Kind of a pain in the *ss, in fact.

As far as the audio-book went, I started off the first disc thinking I would not like the narrator David Oyelowo, but he ended up doing a nice job... definitely got stronger as the story went on... nice job with different voices and some excellent accents, especially as there were many different ones... his voice for Hannah's friend Grace was great, sounded like another human being.
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LibraryThing member DubaiReader
Very poor audio version, abandoned.

I have a policy of reviewing every book I read, so I'm catching up on a few that never got reviewed because I never finished reading them. The Mission Song falls into that category.
I treasure my books on audio CD as I can listen to them easily in the car, so it
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is with great regret that I abandon an audiobook. This one however, was a truly awful narration. A dreary monologue that just couldn't hold my attention.
I'd never read a Le Carre novel before but The Mission Song seems to be one of his less favoured books. So this, along with the poor narration convinced me that life was just too short, and this was going to be one of my rare abandoned audio books. I'm not sure I even completed the first CD.
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LibraryThing member addunn3
A young translator becomes involved in the overthrow of an African country. Well written, and interesting plot.




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