Ben Oliver

Spies in Canaan

25 September 2023

Michael, a retired Vietnam-war intelligence officer, receives a mysterious package in the mail detailing one final assignment.

A novel in two parts—one that has the protagonist recount his experience mostly desk-bound in Saigon, and the other set roughly in the present day.

A very far cry from your typical spy thriller; this is a short book, elegantly written and told through the fog of time, memory and war. Park has clearly done his research but refuses to wash the story with redundant historical detail.

The prose is elaborate and almost over-written but it keeps a sense of urgency bubbling away in the background. Perhaps the general instability of the war-time setting is enough to keep the pace up even when Michael starts drifting away into his own thoughts.

It’s his thoughts that ultimately make the book what it is. It’s only in the final few scenes that I saw the broader picture of what themes Spies in Canaan has been grasping at all along, and it’s almost alarming and magical how the whole thing comes into focus.