The BookBrowse Review

Published September 16, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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  • Blog:
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  • Book Giveaway:
    Memorial Drive
    by Natasha Trethewey
Book Jacket

Missionaries
by Phil Klay
6 Oct 2020
416 pages
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN-13: 9781984880659
Genre: Novels
Critics:
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In the modern world, everything is connected, including how we kill.

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 his debut novel Missionaries, National Book Award-winning author and Iraq War veteran 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.

"[P]lotlines get convoluted in the late stages, but the dispiriting conclusion is crystal clear: It's not just that war is hell, but that war brings hellishness to everything. An unflinching and engrossing exploration of violence's agonizing persistence." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Each character is rendered in psychologically astute moral complexity...the author's prodigious skill and deep understanding of the region provide the scaffolding to explore essential questions of human dignity and sacrifice. A triumphant achievement that elevates Klay to the top echelon of contemporary writers." - Booklist (starred review)

"While the novel suffers from a surfeit of tedious subplots and can feel overwhelmed by Klay's exhaustive research, the prose is consistently staggering...it's quite a ride." - Publishers Weekly

"With Missionaries Klay, winner of the National Book Award in 2014, has dropped a novel on us of a muscular veracity as terrifying and important as it is rare in contemporary writing." - The Millions

"Phil Klay's Missionaries is a big, rich, clear-eyed book about death and life; wise, compassionate, and, yes, as cynical as it needs to be when necessary, but full of vivid people caught up in that organized human violence which is our species' haunting passion. I've maybe never read a war novel this good." - Ayad Akhtar, Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright of Disgraced

"Phil Klay's Missionaries has a sweep and incisiveness to it I had almost forgotten novels were capable of. I haven't been so gripped by a book in years. It is immensely smart and farseeing, and utterly unsparing. Extraordinary." - Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You

"This engaging and far-ranging novel is about the thorny battle for reconciliation in the midst of an endlessly-fought war. For all the tense geopolitics and violent special forces raids and guerilla warfare in Missionaries, Phil Klay's true subject is the contested territory of the heart. It is here, in the novel's poignant exploration of faith and parental love and uneasy moral compromises, that the cost of US military intervention is laid bare. A chilling and accomplished novel." - Kirstin Valdez Quade, author of Night at the Fiestas

Phil Klay is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His short story collection Redeployment won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics' Circle John Leonard Prize for best debut work in any genre, and was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times. His nonfiction work won the George W. Hunt, S.J., Prize for Journalism, Arts & Letters in the category of Cultural & Historical Criticism in 2018. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and the Brookings Institution's Brookings Essay series. He is on the Board of Arts in the Armed Forces and he currently teaches fiction at Fairfield University.

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