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Spies in Canaan

Ghosts of the past

Michael Miller lives a comfortable East Coast life as a retired diplomat. One day, a padded envelope arrives which will rip open a part of his past he’d rather forget. As a young man, Michael was a paper pusher at the American embassy during the final days of the Vietnam War. Ostensibly a benign role which became less so as he fell under the spell of hawkish CIA analyst Ignatius Donovan. Spies in Canaan by David Park, follows on from his exquisite Travelling in a Strange Land, and, again, Park creates a complete and gripping fictional universe within a mere 200 pages.

Michael arrives in Saigon a somewhat naïve Mid-Western boy from a strict presbyterian family. His moral compass will be tested to its limit by the Catholic Donovan, who seems to have a ‘glaring disconnection between what was supposedly believed and what was done’. Whatever happened in Saigon has had no consequences for Michael’s career or personal life and has effectively been swiped under the carpet – until now.

Park is a master of powerful imagery and a superb storyteller who, within a few sentences, brings you straight into wartime Saigon with ‘black snow falling from a cloudless blue sky’, into the eye of a Dust Bowl tornado or to the cacti and barbed wired covered landscape of the Mexican-American border.

Memory, guilt and atonement are at the core of this novel as is the ‘the idea of the greater good is merely a camouflage to do things we don’t want anyone to know about’. Spies in Canaan is packed with quotable sentences like this, I could go on and on. Instead, I suggest you go find out for yourself and get sucked into this wonderful book.

Spies in Canaan by David Park is published by Bloomsbury, 208 pages.

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