Mamista - 1991

Other novels

Plot summary

Dealing with post-Cold War issues, this novel tells the story of a group of Marxist revolutionaries in Spanish Guiana and the three people caught up in their fight against the CIA - an Australian doctor Ralph Lucas, an young hoodlum Angel Paz, who seeks to prove himself in the jungle, and an educated revolutionary Inez Cassidy.

It portrays the tedium and terror of war, and the shifting alliances which mean the main characters can never be too sure who’s on their side in the jungle. Brought together under trying circumstances, the three of them must learn to work together to battle jungle fever, tension, jealousy and revenge against an evocative backdrop of drug-fuelled freedom fighters and the fight for freedom against the ever-present CIA. They must trek across mile after mile of jungle, with prisoners, led by a young man who has never before been so frightened, but cannot show it.

Why it's enjoyable

This was previously an unpublished novel written well before it was published. It came out just after the end of the Cold War and marks a real departure in Deighton’s chosen subject matter, perhaps reflecting his desire to break new ground and use the timing offered by the shift in political polarity. The back blurb on the proof copy indeed says: 'the question every fan has asked it "What will Len Deighton do when the Berlin Wall comes down."

Well, the answer was Mamista. The novel reads more like a conventional thriller adventure than a tale of espionage and is refreshing for that, though the Lucas character lacks much of the wit and careworn bravado of say, Bernard Samson. Given what has happened in South America in the twenty years since this book was written, with the growth of revolutionary movements like FARC in Columbia and the Shining Path in Peru, Deighton's depiction of the impact of revolutionary terrorism on the continent is eerily foretelling.

Sample dialogue

'Ramon nodded. "When you get down to the truth of it: a revolution runs on money."

Maestro shrugged. "Of course, Just as a government does."

"Just as General Motors does," said Ramon.'

Related facts

This is the first book published by Deighton's new publishers at the time, Century, having switched first from his initial publishers Jonathan Cape and then Hutchinson, which published the Samson novels. It is one of only two novels of his published by Century, the other being City of Gold.

Mamista

Mamista, UK first edition, 1991

Did you know?

The cover features a detail from A Lion Devouring its Prey by French modernist painter Henri Rousseau. The original can be seen in the UK National Gallery.