HODDER & STOUGHTON £17.99 (339pp) £16.50 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

The Mission Song, By John le Carré

Gore in our gadgetry

In the run-up to Christmas 2000 there was chaos in cyberspace as anxious parents searched websites in the hope of purchasing PlayStation 2. Amazon, ebay and K-mart crashed under the pressure of traffic. Sony blamed manufacturing delays. John le Carré's The Mission Song claims that the true reason for the delays lay in massacres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which interrupted supplies of coltan, a vital component in electronic goods and mobile phones: 80 per cent of known reserves of coltan are in the Congo.

The connection between Western consumption and African death lies at the heart of this novel. Two Western companies plot a coup in the Congo. They plan to engineer a civil war, fermenting conflict between ethnic groups then installing a puppet regime to give them a monopoly over gold, uranium, diamond and coltan mines. The US company, aided by the CIA, plots Rwanda's annexation of Eastern Congo. It is headed by neo-conservatives fearful of China's huge appetite for mineral resources and growing influence over the Congolese government.

The rival British outfit - "The Syndicate" - plans to get in first. Lord Brinkley, art connoisseur, socialite and ex-New Labour minister, is one of its leading financiers. Others include Andersen, "rectitude personified... the oak of England", a tenor in the Sevenoaks Choral Society who lives very comfortably with his wife, daughters and spaniels; and Maxie, an aristocratic eccentric dressed in "time-yellowed Oxford University rowing sweater... and old plimsolls without socks".

They talk much about bringing freedom and democracy to the Congo, but are in truth missionaries of other Western values, their intention being to gain exclusive access to mineral resources. The Syndicate fly to a secret rendezvous. There, with great pomp, leaders of warring East Congolese factions are flown to negotiate a settlement which would allow maximum exploitation of Congo's riches. As Maxie puts it, explaining the plotters' intention, "Congo's been bleeding for five centuries. 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... Time they had a break, and we're the boys to give it to 'em."

The narrator, Bruno Salvador ("Salvo"), is employed by The Syndicate as interpreter. Son of a Roman Catholic Irish missionary and a Congolese village woman, Salvo is brought up in a Catholic orphanage the Congo, then sent to a Catholic boarding school in Sussex. His extraordinary facility with languages leads him to London's SOAS and government jobs dealing with trade and diplomacy in Africa and refugees in London. He is eventually recruited by the British intelligence service.

Salvo's wife, Penelope, is a white journalist from a wealthy family who has married him to defy her parents. But she abandons Salvo for a newspaper executive who can promote her career. Salvo is initially naïve, believing in The Syndicate's talk about democracy and orderly development, but comes to understand the hypocrisy of the plotters and the corrupt nature of the African leadership.

He involves his new lover in a bid to expose the planned coup. Hannah is a Congolese nurse in London, a woman whose angelic nature, generosity and compassion are, to Salvo, revelations of the redeeming aspects of the Congolese character. In seeking Hannah's help he places her life in danger and at this point the novel becomes a tender love story.

Le Carré's is a fierce condemnation of the ways that Africans are exploited by Western commercial interests; nothing has changed since the greed for ivory revealed in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. This is also a novel deeply sympathetic to Salvo and other black people in England, exposing the many ways in which they suffer taunts, stereotyping and institutional racism. While it may lack the sophistication and ambition of Conrad's work, it is a thriller with the potential to educate readers not otherwise interested in global politics.

David Dabydeen's novels include 'A Harlot's Progress' (Vintage)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing