The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Book Review:
John le Carré, The Mission Song

Dec 1, 2008

The Mission Song is a recent novel by John le Carré, the British writer whose novels have often exposed the inner workings of British and American imperialism and the government agencies that carry out the dirty work. This novel is narrated by Salvo, the son of a Congolese woman and an Irish Catholic missionary in the Congo, who is fluent in several Congolese languages. Employed by British intelligence as a translator, he is sent to a secret conference to interpret the discussions between Congolese war lords and members of a Western business syndicate. In it are mercenaries who have fought in wars in various poor countries, consultants and an accountant expert in hiding taxes and intelligence contractors. Behind them are the leading fixtures of American corporate and political power, including a “Wall Street broker and former presidential aide” and a “vice president of the Grayson-Halliburton Communications Enterprise.” The aim of the syndicate is to use the Congolese warlords to carry out a coup in the Kivu area in eastern Congo in order to forestall an election and to facilitate the syndicate’s access to vast mineral resources.

British intelligence and top politicians are shown as the servants of the multinational companies at the expense of the Congolese people. Though Salvo seems assimilated into the upper crust of British society, when he reveals what’s happening to Congo, he’s quickly thrown into prison and disappears.

A book like this is interesting since it shows what happens behind the scenes. Recently, Congo appeared in the news as a rebel army was about to seize the city of Goma, the capital of Kivu. The media mentioned that five million people died in the area in the last five years, but gave no explanation why. The Mission Song gives a vivid picture of how this results from imperialism’s plunder of this part of Africa.