Red, White, Blue: Book summary and reviews of Red, White, Blue by Lea Carpenter

Red, White, Blue

by Lea Carpenter

Red, White, Blue by Lea Carpenter X
Red, White, Blue by Lea Carpenter
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2018
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

A dark, powerful, and subtly crafted novel that traces the intertwined fates of a CIA case officer and a young woman who is forced to confront her dead father's secret past - at once a gripping, immersive tale of duplicity and espionage, and a moving story of love and loyalty.

Anna is the beloved only child of the charismatic Noel, a New York City banker - and a mother who abandoned her. When Noel dies in a mysterious skiing accident in Switzerland the day before his daughter's wedding, Anna, consumed by grief, grows increasingly distant from her prominent music-producing husband, who begins running for office.

One day, while on her honeymoon in the south of France, Anna meets an enigmatic stranger who will cause perhaps even greater upheaval in her life. It will soon become clear that this meeting was no chance encounter: this man once worked with Anna's father and has information about parts of Noel's life that Anna never knew. When she arrives back in New York, she receives a parcel that contains a series of cryptic recordings and videos showing Noel at the center of a brutal interrogation. Soon, everything Anna knows about her father's life - and his death - is called into question, launching her into a desperate search for the truth.

Smart, fast-moving, and suspenseful, Red, White, Blue plunges us into the inner workings of the CIA, a China Ops gone wrong, and the consequences of a collision between one's deepest personal ties and the most exacting and fateful professional commitment.

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Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Readers should not expect to come away satisfied with pat solutions, but rather to be seduced and enthralled with the far more challenging questions that arise and are sometimes, as in life, left unanswered." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Employing a failed spy operation as the backdrop for a young woman's search for identity, Carpenter's mesmerizing follow-up to her acclaimed war novel, Eleven Days (2013), is as deeply affecting as it is razor-sharp." - Kirkus

"Finally, the perfect spy novel for the post–9/11 era. Carpenter's Red, White, Blue brilliantly evokes the world of American espionage in a time of crisis, as the struggle to fight terrorism conflicts with longer-term views of American interests and agents find themselves trapped within conflicting loyalties to friends, to assets, to family, and to country. Thrilling, provocative, and powerfully moving." - Philip Klay, author of Redeployment

"Why does the stuff of espionage lie so close to essential matters of the human heart?  Love, loyalty, lies, betrayal - Lea Carpenter plumbs the depths of all these in this brilliant, very possibly flawless book. I can think of no novel in recent memory that blends the personal and intimate so truly with power and conflict on the grand geopolitical scale. Red, White, Blue is a marvel and a masterpiece." - Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

"Red, White, Blue is a beautifully written, utterly gripping, and haunting story of espionage. Both timely and relevant and, in the tradition of the best spy novels, it is about secrets, deception, betrayal, and lies, the cruelest dilemmas of human nature." - Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs and The Moscow Trilogy

"With the elegant restraint of an intelligence operative herself, Lea Carpenter unwinds the complex relationship between a daughter and her secretive father. Her book delves into the obscure culture of the CIA, but even deeper into the way that a man's necessarily hidden life impinges on his child's sense of coherence.  This is a riveting and disturbing account of attachments that can never be fully resolved, a book about dignity and discretion and their oblique relationship to intimacy." - Andrew Solomon, PhD, author of Far From the Tree

"Lea Carpenter has written the perfect post-modern spy novel, a story of espionage but also of love and secrets. A stunning mix of prose and suspense: Imagine Joan Didion meets Alan Furst." - Janine di Giovanni, author of The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Iraq

"Red, White, Blue is that rarest of rare literary jewels: a genre-bending masterpiece of brilliant story-telling that combines breathtaking skill with exquisite artistry." - Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War

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Reader Reviews

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Judith S. (Binghamton, NY)

Intellectually entertaining
Red, White, Blue is a thinking person's book. Similar to international films, the reader is not spoon fed or taken for a quick read ride through the story. Carpenter gives us a sneak peak into the work of intelligence and espionage in a style that is thought provoking, thrilling and philosophical. I found the need to focus through the unusual sequence of chapters invigorating although some may find it cumbersome or confusing, hence the need to take it slow and think it through while reading. Overall the book is fascinating, funny, educational and relevant.

Marcia C. (Jeffersonville, PA)

Worlds of Deception
Red, White, Blue is a book centered in deception—the deceptions of the CIA, the deceptions of its agents; the half-truths that are shared in Anna's family and the half-truths used by the author to describe the evolution of the truth that underlies the story. In the middle of it all stands Anna, a young woman, recently married, who is determined to answer the questions surrounding her father's death in an avalanche in Switzerland.
While she is on her honeymoon, Anna has a seemingly chance encounter with a gentleman in a bar in the south of France. Over time, this gentleman, a CIA caseworker, reveals his close working relationship with Anna's father, Noel, who was a major CIA operative in the Far East. Anna knew nothing of her father's work. She begins to see him with new eyes and to question her father, herself and their lives together.
Scene by scene the pieces of Noel's life are revealed, like an onion being peeled one layer at a time. Often a key scene is not presented in its entirety. Facts are omitted, contexts are altered, only to be replayed and clarified later in the book. My understanding kept evolving along with Anna's. In the end, I was left with truths that kept shifting under my feet. I finished the book wondering "what is true?"
Red, White, Blue is an intriguing read, hard to put down, and well worth the effort.

Arden A. (Longboat Key, FL)

Not your typical spy novel
This is an excellent spy novel, interestingly presented with so much information embedded in each sentence that you tend to reread paragraphs so as not to miss anything. It toggles back and forth between the voice of a spy and the voice of the daughter of a spy, about her father, who was a spy, and his untimely death.

"Clandestine is something completely hidden fom view, as opposed to covert, which means something that appears as something else."

"At the end of the day what differentiates you in this line of work isn't teachable. Teachables are icing."

"Espionage isn't a math problem, Anna, it's a painting."

Those quotes are just the tip of the iceberg of the style and depth of this delicious novel.

Molly B. (Longmont, CO)

Spare is great
The alternating story lines and the spare prose in Red, White, and Blue kept my interest, to the point of fascination. Carpenter provided some insight into the workings of undercover and CIA operations, which I assume are largely true – they certainly seemed plausible. What I liked best were the little pearls of wisdom presented quite naturally throughout the book, like "You don't have a sense of danger until you've experienced loss". And any reader who is a parent will react to the conversation between the protagonist's parents right after she was born: the mother says, "Maybe she'll fight for justice" and the father says, "Maybe she'll just be happy." There were parts that were confusing, like the ending, because the writing is cryptic. But I would so much rather read cryptic writing that I have to work for (and will probably reread immediately) than a bunch of gratuitous verbiage that I have to wade through to get one little idea. This book was the opposite, and I am grateful for this kind of writing.

M K. (Minneapolis, MN)

What Do You Know?
Picture yourself, it's mid week, and now, after dinner you decide it's time to start the book all your friends have been raving about. Unless you're willing to not get any sleep this mid week night it might be better to wait for a rainy afternoon in which at the worst you'll have to call your boss and tell her that you'll be a little late the next morning. Red, White, Blue is that kind of book.

Reading the first few pages you notice a certain crispness about the writing, very straightforward and yet sucking you into its intriguing vortex of two simultaneous stories: one of a person applying to work in counterintelligence for the CIA and the training that they go through and the other story of a daughter of an agent and what she knows and doesn't know and how it impacts her life. What is it like to have a spy for a father? What can you believe about someone you love and who loves you who lies for a living? You may be able to put the book down for some hours before you finish it but it will stay with you like an insect buzzing around you that only can hear. And when you finish it, the book will live with you a bit longer until you're ready to move on with your life.

For the spy genre, this book holds your attention from the first few pages to the end and beyond. If you enjoy being consumed by a book, this book, Red, White, Blue is for you.

Maureen R. (Alamo, CA)

Red, White, Blue, What America Asks
Red, White, Blue by Lea Carpenter is a whole new genre of spy novel. Brilliantly crafted, it is smart and the reader is smarter for having read it. Narrated in two voices, it is more than an inside look at the CIA, it is a look at what working for the CIA demands in personal sacrifice. Not just for the agents, but for all those who love them. This is a politically savvy and pertinent novel in these times of geopolitical and national turmoil. I will never watch the news in the same way. This book answers questions I didn't know to ask.

...17 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Lea Carpenter

Lea Carpenter graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton and has an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she was valedictorian. She is a Contributing Editor at Esquire and has written the screenplay for Mile 22, a film about CIA's Special Activities Division, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg and John Malkovich, coming out in July. She is developing Eleven Days for television with Lucy Donnelly (Grey Gardens) and Gideon Raff (Homeland). She lives in New York.

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