Book-in-Focus: Missionaries: A Novel by Phil Klay
“Thorough, forceful, and ambitious . . . Missionaries is a deeply ethical novel, and one that often pauses to question the purpose of war and possibility of redemption for combatants of all kinds. It is also a very well-built narrative . . . Klay is able to write kidnapping and murder without sensationalism; he never loses track of his moral questions, even while toggling between interiority and thriller-paced action. He maintains clarity through a sequence of events so intricate and scenes so populous that the vast majority of writers — great ones included: John Le Carré is often guilty of this — would forfeit the reader's understanding. Most importantly, Klay tends well to his many characters, giving each not only a voice, but a resolution . . . by the end, its humanity, like its purpose, is clear.”
About the Book
A group of Colombian soldiers prepares to raid a drug lord's safe house on the Venezuelan border. They're watching him with an American-made drone, about to strike using military tactics taught to them by U.S. soldiers who honed their skills to lethal perfection in Iraq. In Missionaries, Phil Klay examines the globalization of violence through the interlocking stories of four characters and the conflicts that define their lives.
For Mason, a U.S. Army Special Forces medic, and Lisette, a foreign correspondent, America's long post-9/11 wars in the Middle East exerted a terrible draw that neither is able to shake. Where can such a person go next? All roads lead to Colombia, where the US has partnered with local government to keep predatory narco gangs at bay. Mason, now a liaison to the Colombian military, is ready for the good war, and Lisette is more than ready to cover it. Juan Pablo, a Colombian officer, must juggle managing the Americans' presence and navigating a viper's nest of factions bidding for power.
Meanwhile, Abel, a lieutenant in a local militia, has lost almost everything in the seemingly endless carnage of his home province, where the lines between drug cartels, militias, and the state are semi-permeable.
Drawing on six years of research in America and Colombia into the effects of the modern way of war on regular people, Klay has written a novel of extraordinary suspense infused with geopolitical sophistication and storytelling instincts that are second to none. Missionaries is a window not only into modern war, but into the individual lives that go on long after the drones have left the skies.
Reviews & What Readers Say
“ [This] compact epic of a novel contains perhaps Klay's finest writing yet . . . Using his formidable gifts for scene-setting, meaningful irony and deep human empathy, Klay weaves together a set of stories over the course of nearly three decades . . . Amid raging fires and illness and constitutional crises, Klay's book roars something vital: Never forget about war or the blood and bone and the evil and the reckless idealism of who we all really are.”
―Los Angeles Times
“ Wrenching and insightful."
―The New Yorker
“ A sweeping, interconnected novel of ideas in the tradition of Joseph Conrad and Norman Mailer . . . By taking a long view of the ‘rational insanity’ of global warfare, Missionaries brilliantly fills one of the largest gaps in contemporary literature."
―The Wall Street Journal
" Klay’s considerable accomplishment in Missionaries, goes well beyond incisive ‘insider access into the next permutation of the massive, industrial-scale U.S. machine for generating and executing targets.’ In the tradition of Robert Stone and Graham Greene, he makes geopolitical misadventure, cultural blindness and atavistic behavior pulse inevitably toward terrible denouement."
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Phil Klay is an American writer. He won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014 for his first book-length publication, a collection of short stories, Redeployment. In 2014 the National Book Foundation named him a 5 under 35 honoree. He was a United States Marine officer from 2005 to 2009