"American Spy updates the espionage thriller with blazing originality."--Entertainment Weekly "Gutsy . . . challenging boundaries is what brave fiction does."--The New York Times "So much fun . . . Like the best of John le Carré, it's extremely tough to put down."--NPR NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 (SO FAR) BY Time * Esquire * Vulture * Vogue * Real Simple What if your sense of duty required you to betray the man you love? It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman working in an old boys' club. Her career has stalled out, she's overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she's given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Sankara is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she's being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent. In the year that follows, Marie will observe Sankara, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American. Inspired by true events--Thomas Sankara is known as "Africa's Che Guevara"--American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you've never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice. Praise for American Spy "Inspired by real events, this espionage thriller ticks all the right boxes, delivering a sexually charged interrogation of both politics and race."--Esquire "Echoing the stoic cynicism of Hurston and Ellison, and the verve of Conan Doyle, American Spy lays our complicities--political, racial, and sexual--bare. Packed with unforgettable characters, it's a stunning book, timely as it is timeless."--Paul Beatty, Man Booker Prizewinning author of The Sellout
I tried, on several occasions to get into this book, but to no avail. I found it difficult to follow or enjoy. It was confusing as the time line seemed erratic. Although I tried, I could not identify with any of the characters. The subject matter contained too much detail and dialogue that I could not relate to and I found that the anti-American sentiment, coupled with the emphasis on existing racism was off-putting. The negativity seemed contradictory since the main characters, the Mitchell sisters, seemed devoted to the United States with one enlisting in the Vietnam era and the other becoming a spy for the FBI.
The novel is mostly about one of the two African American sisters who were raised by their father who was in law enforcement and a mother who was possibly a spy. At some point, she basically abandoned the children and her husband, leaving the two girls to be raised by their father. She did remain in touch, but barely.
The story plays out as a letter written by Marie Mitchell, to her two young boys, shortly after there was an attempt on her life because of something she did in the past as an undercover agent. She wants them to understand what has happened and why she has fled America and taken them to live with her mother in Martinique. She wants them to understand more about her life in case she disappears.
I could not identify in any way with Marie’s life, her lifestyle or her choice of friends. I never heard of the country she was sent to in West Africa, as an undercover agent. I did not feel the history was sufficiently explained for me to relate to it well. If it was not based on something supposedly historic, perhaps I could have suspended disbelief, but it is represented as historic fiction. I simply could not warm to any of the characters, either.
Sometimes, themes are placed in books that are irrelevant, and I believe the LGBTQ theme was such a case. Had the book just been about the effort of these two women to break into fields of work that were traditionally white and male oriented, it would have been enough, but there were too many tangents. Using Marie Mitchell as a sexual decoy simply added another unpleasant dimension. I would like to know the true story, if there is one, about these two devoted sisters.
On a positive note, I grew up in or knew of the neighborhoods Marie describes in the New York area, and lived in that time, as well, so I found the memories nostalgic. However, I am not sure why the book has received so many rave reviews other than the fact that it fits very well into the current progressive narrative with which we are being brainwashed daily. I read two thirds of the book and then simply gave up. The over the top Reagan bashing was my breaking point.
“It’s not romantic to be so loyal that you compromise your sense of yourself.”
This is a well-plotted spy thriller that respects the parameters of the genre while blowing them away with a clear-eyed look at how our government's agencies worked to destabilize foreign governments and how racism and misogyny kept them largely composed of clean-cut white men. Which is not to say that American Spy isn't full of action-packed scenes or fascinating geopolitics. Lauren Wilkinson has managed to write a novel that is a fast-paced thriller and a nuanced exploration of what it means to be a black woman working in a field dominated by white men.
The story of Marie Mitchell, the mother of twin boys, has fled the states to her mother's home in Martinique. Why did she feel the need to flee?
Marie originally joined the FBI to live her late older sister's dream--though she knows she can do it too. She is a great judge of character and can read people easily--as well as manipulate their thoughts about her. But there isn't really room to advance if you are an African-American woman--that's two strikes against you. She may be stuck recruiting low-level informants forever. So when Marie is offered a new opportunity to be part of a CIA operation in Burkina Faso, she takes it.
But the whole operation is not quite what she expected--and no one is what she expected. Who can she trust when everyone around her can read people and manipulate others as well--or better--than she can?
There are lots of spy stories out there, but this one is unusual in so many ways. I don't know of any other spy novels where the spy is a black woman. Marie is incredibly intelligent and analytical. She believes in the greater good, but she questions the FBI and their methods. She is willing to take the law into her own hands if need be.
The book also grapples with the difficult questions of complicity. Marie carefully examines her own role in what is happening in the world around her and has to make some difficult decisions about what she is willing to participate in.
This book is more cerebral than most spy thrillers - there's more introspection than action, which makes the book feel a little slow, but also a lot more realistic.
American Spy does have spy thriller elements, but it's so much more. It's told as a journal/letter written by the main character to her sons after someone breaks into their home and she kills the intruder, explaining her history and theirs. It has an almost memoir feel to it, as Marie takes her sons and the reader through her childhood, her relationship with her sister, her time at the FBI, and her experience as a foreign operative in Africa.
It's nicely paced, and very unique. I've definitely never read a story quite like this one and it leaves you wanting more, wanting the rest of Marie's story. The ending isn't disappointing at all, but it is open, and I don't dare say more as I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin, and she was phenomenal.
A different take on the spy novel. The main character is an intelligence officer whose career has stalled out, possibly because of her race and gender. She's finally offered an important assignment, but it will involve seducing and betraying an African head of state. The novel has some John LeCarre themes--the loneliness of spy work, the psychic cost of betrayal, the questionable morality of spy agencies--but with a different central character whose life circumstances add new dimensions to the story.
Hardback, kindle, due in paperback in March
Would I read a second installment? I might...
That is not to say that there's no action. True, the spy in the story is no James Bond, but the protagonist is much more true to life as real spies work. Marie battles racism and sexism, while agents try to find ways to use and exploit her. She in turn tries to use the government agents to obtain information about a family tragedy.
As she moves from FBI agent to contract worker for the CIA, she becomes ensnared in a plot against an African revolutionary leader, one who espouses Communism and denounces neocolonialism. When she realizes that she's misjudged the real aim of her project, she becomes determined to thwart the venal forces behind it, even in the face of danger.
Highly recommended for readers who want to see American spying through a new lens.
Nevertheless, she and her sister knew they wanted to be spies from a very young age. Even after her sister’s death, Marie joined the FBI. There, despite her brains and achievements, she was overlooked because she was both black and a woman.
When she was offered a chance to do a job for the CIA to become close to Burkina Faso’s Communist leader, Thomas Sankara, she jumped at the chance. Although the US was masterminding a coup against him because he was Communist, she admired the leader for making life better for the poor in his country. The more she worked with him, the more she found she admired the man.
But the deeper she became involved in America’s Cold War politics in Africa, the more apparent it became that the shadowy group she was working with were not whom they said they were.
This is written as a letter to her six year old sons. The times jump back and forth rather randomly over thirty years. After I finished the book, I reread it to be sure I had understood the time sequences and because I thought I had missed something that would help explain the cliffhanger ending.
It’s an intriguing story, written in a fresh setting whose history I didn’t know. It’s the first book by a new author, and while I found the format confusing at times, it will be interesting to see what she produces next.