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Missionaries  By  cover art

Missionaries

By: Phil Klay
Narrated by: MacLeod Andrews,Cynthia Farrell,Henry Leyva,Anthony Rey Perez
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Publisher's Summary

One of President Obama's Favorite Books of the Year | A New York Times Notable Book | One of the Wall Street Journal 10 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 US 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 US 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.

©2020 Phil Klay (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

Missionaries is a courageous book: It doesn’t shy away, as so much fiction does, from the real world . . . Is there such a thing as a ‘good war,’ like the one Mason seeks? Missionaries is skeptical at best; it does believe, however, in fiction’s ability to illuminate these dark places. And so the novel goes on, undeterred, exploring and revealing whole human worlds that would remain inaccessible without it.” —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

“[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 

What listeners say about Missionaries

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Remarkable

One of the best books I’ve ever read. Phil writes beautifully. And he captures many of the sentiments I’ve felt but have been unable to express during my many overseas deployments in the Marine Corps. This is a masterpiece.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Captivating, realistic, and touching

So a little bit about myself: I guess you could call me career military, having been in roughly a decade. I read Redeployment at the beginning of my career, so I guess it's only fitting Missionaries dropped somewhere in the middle. Why do I mention this? I mention it because I don't think there's a modern author who so accurately captures the essence of today's United States Military. The machinations, bureaucracy, the meandering nature of the war machine--it's all there, in a cold, honest, saddening way.
But Klay goes farther, and captures the human spirit incredibly poetically. There were several moments I had to pause the player and rewind what I just heard because the description was just so beautiful, even if the material was horrific at times. The man truly has a way with words.
For those without a military background, I do wonder if they'd get lost a little. Hell, there's so many people in the military that wander aimlessly, would I blame civilians for not understanding what happens? No. But give it a try. I wholly recommend this novel.

2 people found this helpful

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  • 11-21-20

just not that good

Story is all over the place.
I stopped listening. It will be a return for me.

1 person found this helpful

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Compressed but palpable for civilians and military

An outstanding read. It gets far more philosophical and internal than is necessary, but the web Klay spins catches you none the less. The entire book keeps you interested, but the last few chapters describe about as honest an assessment of an Ops Center as is legal to describe. It is raw and honest about the violence and misdirection that causes and results in modern warfare. Missionaries doesn't pull punches, just an outstanding read that military professionals and civilians will enjoy alike.

1 person found this helpful

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Hard to determine the story after 5 chapters,

This story may have a underlying drug cartel story, it did not keep my interest nor suggest any reason to finish listening.

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Intense

Baffling, breathtaking examination of today's warfare. I strongly recommend that you try it soon.

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Complex!

Reputed to be a favorite read by former President Obama. The book is a complex sometimes time shifted description of the almost endless number of competing violent factions operating in Colombia. These include the military, the paramilitary, the narcos, and a long list of independent militia or vigilante groups. They're all struggling for their piece of the action and the money. The violence is unsettling and the role of the US special forces and CIA is not always something to be proud of. it takes a while, or even the entire book, to keep the various groups and characters straight. But there is good attention to the inner lives of some of these frightening characters.

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Frustrating!

This book is a frustrating mess of sub-stories that never seem to come to a point where they make sense and persons that randomly come and go in this spaghetti of plot. A clear return for me...

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It gets better

Hang in there past the pain porn. That continues but the arcs blend and become more interesting

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Enjoyable reading

I appreciated the separate stories eventually becoming a most intriguing development. Excellent writing. Would recommend it highly.