Book reviews

Phil Klay’s Missionaries (Penguin Press, 2020)

Detailed analyses of those who choose to fight terrorists, interspersed with religious commentary.

Like his previous novel Redeployment, Phil Klay writes convincingly about American soldiers who volunteer to fight against Islamic and Colombian terrorism.  Unlike Redeployment, though, where the sex scenes were more memorable, the gruesome ways in which Islamic and Colombian domestic terrorists—whether jihadist, paramilitary, or other categories—kill human beings will stay with a reader long after the novel is finished.

A gay man who is raped and then shot at the hands of a paramilitary who spoke against gay sex (42), another paramilitary who used a whore just for his sexual satisfaction (73-4), a man who is chainsawed to death (83), a medic who sterilizes a man by a vasectomy and who attempts the feeble joke of calling that sexual sin “a true cross-cultural bond” (154), an account of a guerrilla who forces a mother to abort (288): these episodes illustrate some of the many categories of violence that a human being with no moral compass can perpetrate against another human being.

And yet, the novel interweaves serious discussion about several main Jewish and Christian religious beliefs which inform the Western world.

The inherent religious longing that every human being experiences is expressed by Lisette when she declares, “I am broken, I am broken, and I do not know how I will ever fix this hole I’ve carved into my soul” (17).  A solider admits the crucial first step to developing a necessary attribute for his job of killing terrorists: “So I screwed up my courage.  First by talking to God” (191).  One passage is a tacit acknowledgment of Original Sin (221), and another suggests the classic ends-justify-the-means ethical problem (287-8).  Even the last pages constitute a descriptive passage of international contributions and culpability of drone warfare (401-3).

Although the 404 pages are sometimes tedious, faculty and students will appreciate Klay’s novel as an example of solid multi-layered narrative with philosophical insight.

Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, I recommend not buying this book on Amazon.  (Why give your hard-earned dollars to a company that censors books?)  Instead, buy this book directly from the publisher.

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