Book Review: The Uprooted

The Uprooted and Other Stories
By Michael Washburn
Adelaide Books

Time was some decades ago when American influence around the world was a given. Anyone who’s read books like The Brothers (regarding John Foster Dulles and Allan Dulles) knows of our clandestine operations to prop up or bring down regimes as befit our interests. In fiction our operatives were thought of as cut from the Our Man Flint mold, macho types who didn’t hide, didn’t have to, because Americans, whatever their motives, were too clever, too powerful, too feared to be defeated.

Times have changed. A lot. In The Uprooted and Other Stories those men and their relationships to the countries in which they find themselves have been updated to reflect the way the world looks at Americans today, and that long latent mistrust and outright hatred renders them far less aggressive than they used to be. No longer secret agents, they are instead often journalists or travelers out there looking for experiences rather than promoting American hegemony. But that fact doesn’t deter their hosts from traditional suspicions.

It’s a refreshing, necessary take on Americans in the larger world. Washburn’s stories offer characters with a far less secure sense of self, men who are curious about people in other lands, and do their best to fit into a culture, rather than manipulate it.

The writing in these mostly-published stories is thoughtful, and reflective of the modern American dynamic, but there’s still the air of mystery that made the old spy tales so popular decades ago. It’s an effective combination for the most part, although the premises from story to story—lone American finds himself immersed in foreign intrigue—tend to repeat, and at nearly 400 pages some may find that bit too much. Readers looking for women protags or people of color will be disappointed too. In that respect not much has changed in those fifty years.

– JP

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