One of President Obama's Favorite Books of the Year | A New York Times Notable Book | One of the Wall Street Journal Ten Best Books of the Year
"Missionaries is a courageous book: It doesn’t shy away, as so much fiction does, from the real world.” —Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The New York Times Book Review
“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
The debut novel from the National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Sometimes, it seems like the more you know about war, the less sense it makes. Iraq War vet Phil Klay brings heartbreaking clarity to the complex topic with this deeply compelling novel. The story is set in Colombia, where a civil war is brewing between the military, international drug gangs, and local militias—and the U.S. has chosen sides. Jumping back and forth through time, Missionaries follows a low-level militia foot soldier, an idealistic Special Forces vet, a jaded war journalist, and a conflicted Colombian military man. Klay carefully fleshes out his characters’ backstories, giving us an intimate look inside their heads as they become embroiled in an increasingly senseless and chaotic situation. This book isn’t for the squeamish—Klay never sugarcoats the gruesome violence of armed conflict. His urgent prose made us feel totally in the moment, forcing us to face the true human cost of war.
Klay's ambitious debut novel (after the National Book Award winning collection Redeployment) plunges the reader into war-torn Colombia, where allegiances are uncertain and tremendous violence is an everyday reality. The story follows the four characters: there is Abelito, a Colombian forcibly conscripted into a militia commanded by the infamous terrorist Jefferson, and who hopes to save the woman he loves from his murderous commandants. American journalist Lisette Marigny, meanwhile, is embedded in Afghanistan until she is dispatched to B gota to report on gang activity, only to be kidnapped by guerrillas. En route from the Middle East is Mason, an Iraq War veteran and Special Forces medic reassigned to fight paramilitary narcos in Colombia, which he naively imagines will be a "good war." He befriends Juan Pablo, a weary commando who frets at being little more than a common mercenary and reflects on his early ambition to join the priesthood. Through these four protagonists, Klay unravels the complexity of interventionist American operations abroad, from Kabul to Medell n. While the novel suffers from a surfeit of tedious subplots and can feel overwhelmed by Klay's exhaustive research, the prose is consistently staggering, whether in the characters' moments of self-reflection or unflinching descriptions of brutality ("A chainsaw appeared, and suddenly everyone who had watched, confused and amazed... knew what was about to happen"). Even though the whole thing doesn't quite tie together, it's quite a ride.