American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Bookshelves: spy-vs-spy, history, africa, in-the-news, fictionalized-history, not-quite-a-romance, politics, racism, sexism
I’ve never been great about keeping up with world events, although I’ve gotten kinda (depressingly) better with the arrival of Der Trumpenfuhrer and my own fucking country mucking things up even more than they already are. So, while I had heard of the Republic of the Upper Volta, I had no idea it is now officially named Burkina Faso, and I certainly knew nothing of “Africa’s Che Guevara” and the coup d’état of 1987.
Multiple timelines work well here. The story opens when former FBI agent Marie Mitchell narrowly escapes a hit attempt and flees her home in the U.S. with her young sons to her mother’s home on Martinique. Between “current” (1992) events and flashback to the events of 1987 in Africa, Wilkinson makes strong use of the second-person voice as Marie writes a journal-style letter to her young sons, explaining her decisions, her ideologies, and her hopes for them, while preparing for her own final and personal mission to put it all to bed for good.
Do not mistake this for a spy thriller. There are no microchips embedded into human flesh, or agents desperately scrambling into an airplane as it’s lifting off the runway, and therefore I’m guessing it’s actually a lot more realistic than, say, The Bourne Identity.* To me, it read like the political and diplomatic story of an actual historical event at the heart of the Cold War with a “what if” added to it. The tensions of racism, sexism, family issues, and the mystery of a lost loved one add in to make an engrossing read with a strong, smart protagonist.
*I have not actually read any of the Bourne books, and after reading a few reviews, I’ve decided that I will not read them, since I enjoyed the three Bourne movies (and love me some Matt Damon).** I also see I’ve never actually read anything by Robert Ludlum at all and I think I must amend that.
**I know there were actually five Bourne movies but I do not intend to watch the last two; reference Matt Damon’s own joke about “The Bourne Redundancy.”
I’ll also be reading Lauren Wilkinson’s next book, as I enjoyed this debut.