ADVANCE PRAISE FOR MISSIONARIES:
[A] 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. We send men (and women) out to fight. For what? And what happens to them when they return? . . . Well worth the wait, “Missionaries” is (among its many virtues) a prime example of what can ideally follow a first great war book. Intricate and ambitious, it’s a rich network of converging stories in which the plot itself becomes the destiny of its characters. And the ceaseless engine driving it forward is American foreign policy, oriented as it always is toward the previous war . . . “Missionaries” is horrifying and refreshing, challenging us to reflect not just on the destruction of our own national institutions but also on the ugly and ongoing consequences of American power abroad.”
“[Klay] shares with Joseph Conrad, an obvious lodestar, a command of the complexity and precariousness of an interconnected global order. He shares with Greene an awareness that global phenomena are inseparable from human beings, like Mason, who frets endlessly about being a "shitty father" and absent husband, or Pablo, with his well-founded anxieties about how his young daughter perceives his brutal work. There are souls at stake here. The terrible arc of Abel's life, in particular, is as haunting as Lord Jim or The Power and the Glory as a portrait of disgrace in pursuit of redemption . . . Missionaries is galvanic and affecting, its prose shifting from beautiful and graceful to hard-boiled as hell; above all, it bears the unmistakable stamp of having been written by someone who didn't need a research assistant to get the bloody details right. That this hard-won knowledge is made to serve such superb, morally serious storytelling is reassuring. The bodies may pile up in Missionaries, but at least we have our proof that the novel is far from dead.”
Brutal, subtle, and witheringly savvy, Phil Klay’s first novel…casts a scathing light on American military ventures overseas, while also immersing readers in the tumult of Colombia as it struggled toward peace and democracy in the first decades of the 21st century . . . Klay, through archival and on-the-ground research, delivers what feels remarkably like a genuine South American novel built from lived experience of his numerous Colombian characters.
Building on exhaustive research and a seemingly endless capacity to develop rich, psychologically complex characters, Klay captures the wretchedness of neglected Colombian villages brutalized by competing murderers . . . There is an unblinking forcefulness in Klay’s accounts of psychotic punishments whimsically inflicted on innocent people by renegade militia and the sometimes meaningless results of official tactical missions.
Klay is brilliant on things like what it’s like to walk through a city after a recent bombing. He is very fine on what he calls the soundtrack of war: ‘the rasp of the Velcro on magazine pouches opening, the crunch of dried mud yielding to the massive tires of heavy armored vehicles, the cough of a diesel engine, the roar of a passing Chinook, the excited shouts from a nearby soccer field, the chirping of birds.’ He understands both the technology of war and the wet stuff of brutality and torture. He’s dryly funny about the new realities of American journalism and foreign reporting, where online ‘there’s no page A26 to flip past, because people don’t accidentally get reported facts on the way to the opinion page anymore.”
This engaging and far-ranging novel is about the thorny battle for reconciliation in the midst of an endlessly-fought war. For all the tense geopolitics and violent special forces raids and guerilla warfare in Missionaries, Phil Klay’s true subject is the contested territory of the heart. It is here, in the novel’s poignant exploration of faith and parental love and uneasy moral compromises, that the cost of US military intervention is laid bare. A moving, chilling, and accomplished novel.