Saturday, January 29, 2011

saturday night reading and africa

"'you're our secret weapon, sinclair. star of the show and don't forget it. how many times in life does a fellow get a chance to give a shove to history?'

"'once if he's lucky,' I rejoined loyally.

"'luck's just another word for destiny,' maxie corrected me...'either you make your own or you're screwed. this isn't some candy-arsed training caper. it's delivering democracy at the end of a gun barrel to the eastern congo. get the right groundswell going, give 'em the right leadership, and the whole of kivu will come running.'

"my head was swirling from this first glimpse of his great vision and his next words spoke straight into my heart...

"'greatest sin committed by the big players in the congo till now has been indifference, right?'

"'right,' I replied heartily.

"'intervene if you can make a fast buck, get the fuck out ahead of the next crisis. right?'


"'the country's in stasis. useless government, chaps sitting around waiting for elections that may or may not happen. and if they do happen, will likely as not leave 'em worse off than before. so there's a vacuum. right?'

"'right,' I echoed yet again.

"'and we're filling it. before any of the other buggers do. because they're all at it, the yanks, the chinese, the french, the multinationals, the lot. trying to get in before the elections. we're intervening and we're staying. and this time, it's the congo itself that's going to be the lucky winner.'

"I attempted yet again to voice my appreciation of all that he had said, but he rode through me.

"'congo's been bleeding to death for five centuries,' he went on distractedly. 'fucked by the arab slavers, fucked by their fellow africans, fucked by the united nations, the cia, the christians, the belgians, the french, the brits, the rwandans, the diamond companies, the gold companies, the mineral companies, half the world's carpetbaggers, their own government in kinshasa, and any minute now they're going to be fucked by the oil companies. time they had a break, and we're the boys to give it to 'em.'"

--from the mission song by john le carre

I adore le carre and I'm about a third through this 2006 novel that, like most of his novels taking place after the fall of the ussr, happens in sub-saharan africa. the mission song, unlike most of those novels, doesn't involve a white british spy but a britishized former child of colonialism, the product of a catholic priest and unnamed tribal woman from east congo--and whose name isn't really sinclair--a professional interpreter who has been recruited by her majesty's government for listening in to other people's conversations. this being le carre and this being only a third of the way through the book, you have to know that even if maxie, the impassioned speaker of the above, is sincere in what he says, the whole good-intentioned mess will flood the shitter eventually.

this novel's protagonist being a translation genius, words are very important to him, as they have always been to le carre: there's not a word out of place, or at least none I would pare, and run-ons and syntactic errors rife and absolutely intended. the man has never lost his ear for the way other people speak, and I am already drenched in his world again.

is it also kismet that I chose to read this novel 2 weeks after the riots in tunisia and mere days after those in cairo? or is it an attempt on my part to understand some of what happens before riots occur?

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