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Welcome to our in-depth audiobook review of “American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive analysis of the plot, characters, themes, and writing style of this critically acclaimed audiobook. With our review, you will gain a better understanding of what to expect when listening to “American Spy” and whether it is the right fit for you.

Key Takeaways:

  • Our review covers the main aspects of “American Spy,” including the plot, characters, themes, and writing style.
  • We provide a balanced view of the audiobook, highlighting both positive and negative aspects.
  • “American Spy” is a historical spy thriller that addresses themes of race, identity, and espionage.
  • Lauren Wilkinson’s writing style and the narrator’s performance enhance the listening experience.
  • Overall, “American Spy” is a highly recommended audiobook for fans of spy thrillers and historical fiction.

Introduction to “American Spy” and its Author, Lauren Wilkinson

“American Spy” is a novel written by Lauren Wilkinson, an American author known for her talent in weaving complex narratives that delve into themes of race, identity, and politics. Originally published in 2019, “American Spy” has garnered widespread acclaim from readers and critics alike, earning a spot on the New York Times’ Best Seller List.

The book falls under the thriller and espionage genre, offering a unique take on the spy novel tropes by featuring an African-American woman as the main protagonist. As for Wilkinson, she is a graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program and has previously worked as a tutor, a fact-checker for a Magazine, and a writing instructor.

In this review, we will take a closer look at the plot, characters, themes, and critical reception of “American Spy” to provide readers with a comprehensive understanding of what to expect from this enthralling audiobook.

Notable Works from Lauren Wilkinson

Book Title Publication Year Genre
American Spy 2019 Thriller, Espionage
Rhode Island Red 2021 Fiction, Short Stories

Aside from “American Spy,” Wilkinson has also published numerous works such as “Rhode Island Red,” a collection of short stories, and “Kinfolk,” a novella. Her works have been featured in prestigious literary journals such as Granta, The Paris Review, and Esquire.

Plot Summary of “American Spy”

Set in the late 1980s, “American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson is a thrilling novel that follows the story of Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI. The story begins with Marie being approached by Thomas Sankara, a revolutionary leader from Burkina Faso, who asks her to help him overthrow his country’s corrupt government. After much consideration, Marie agrees to become a spy and help Sankara.

As Marie travels to Burkina Faso, she confronts numerous challenges, including facing racism and sexism within the intelligence community, and dealing with the societal norms of Burkina Faso. Despite these obstacles, Marie becomes deeply involved in Sankara’s cause, falling in love with him in the process.

As the mission gains momentum, however, Marie is forced to confront difficult ethical questions, including whether or not to betray her country. The novel sees Marie navigate her loyalties and confront tough decisions, and delivers many surprising revelations, making it an enthralling read.

Key events and twists in “American Spy”:

  • Marie is approached by Thomas Sankara, who requests her assistance in overthrowing his country’s government.
  • Marie becomes a spy and travels to Burkina Faso
  • Marie falls in love with Sankara and becomes deeply involved with his cause
  • Marie is forced to confront difficult ethical questions and decide where her loyalties lie.
  • The novel delivers many surprising revelations, making it a thrilling and unpredictable read.

Analysis of the Protagonist and Supporting Characters

In “American Spy,” the protagonist, Marie Mitchell, is a black female FBI agent who is recruited by the CIA to plant a listening device in the home of Thomas Sankara – the President of Burkina Faso. Marie is a complex character with a troubled past, and her motivations and interactions with the supporting cast drive the narrative forward.

One of the main supporting characters is Marie’s sister, Helene, who often serves as a foil to Marie’s personality. Helene is a devout Catholic who disapproves of Marie’s career path, and their relationship is strained due to their vastly different beliefs and values.

Another crucial supporting character is Olivier, a French diplomat with whom Marie becomes romantically involved. Olivier’s presence complicates Marie’s mission, as her feelings for him threaten to compromise her loyalty to the CIA.

Throughout the narrative, author Lauren Wilkinson uses these characters to explore themes such as identity, betrayal, and sacrifice. The relationship between Marie and her family, especially her sister Helene, reflects the complexities of black identity in America. Additionally, the romantic tension between Marie and Olivier shows how personal feelings can interfere with professional obligations.

Overall, the protagonist and supporting characters in “American Spy” are well-developed and contribute significantly to the plot’s progression. Their interactions and conflicting motivations create a sense of urgency and tension that keeps listeners engaged.

Setting and Atmosphere of “American Spy”

Set in the 1980s during the Cold War, “American Spy” takes place across multiple countries including the United States, France, and Burkina Faso. Lauren Wilkinson intricately weaves historical events and cultural references into the narrative, creating a rich and authentic setting for the story.

The atmosphere of the book is predominantly tense and suspenseful, as the protagonist, Marie, navigates the dangers of espionage and political espionage. However, the author deftly balances this with moments of humor and tenderness, making the audiobook a well-rounded listening experience.


Writing Style and Narration in the Audiobook

Lauren Wilkinson’s writing style in “American Spy” is both captivating and evocative, immersing listeners in a complex and nuanced narrative. Her use of language is precise and deliberate, with each word carefully chosen to convey the intended meaning. The structure of the novel is also noteworthy, with Wilkinson expertly utilizing flashbacks and multiple perspectives to keep the story engaging and dynamic. The pacing is well-balanced, allowing the tension to build gradually until the final climactic moments.

The narration of “American Spy” is equally compelling, with Bahni Turpin delivering a masterful performance. Her voice perfectly captures the tone and mood of the story, and her skillful use of accents and inflections breathes life into each character. Turpin’s narration enhances the listening experience, making it a truly immersive and unforgettable journey.

Examples of Writing Style and Narration in “American Spy”

Writing Style Narration
“She imagines walking into the courtroom, her hair swinging when her head turns. Her heels adding a little more bounce to her step than she normally has. She will be aware of the looks from the other people in the room, curious but also a little envious. They won’t know what to do with her. She won’t care.” “Her mother’s hesitation over the truth of Marie’s story told her all she needed to know. Marie had lovers other than her husband, and her mother wasn’t surprised. It was the circumstances that had her concerned.”
“She was afraid she’d come to regret the decision, that she’d stumbled into something way above her head. Something that would prove too dangerous, too complicated, too dark.” “She had a way of saying the Maasai words that sounded more authentic than any of us could muster. Her laughter was loud and free, like she had no worries. Her way of walking suggested that she was loathe to sit still for very long, that she had to be up and moving.”
“She was practicing the art of power, trying to navigate the balance between making an impact and staying out of the way.” “Marie had promised to return to town for her only daughter’s wedding. But the wounds of abandonment were too deep. Marie’s daughter informed her that she wasn’t welcome. Ever. Marie had stayed away, even though her curiosity had pulled at her every day since.”

Overall, the combination of Wilkinson’s writing style and Turpin’s narration make “American Spy” a must-listen for fans of thrilling and thought-provoking audiobooks.

Themes and Social Commentary in “American Spy”

One of the most notable elements of “American Spy” is its exploration of theme and social commentary. Wilkinson deftly weaves together multiple themes, all while using the spy thriller genre to comment on larger social issues.

Espionage and Betrayal

One of the most prevalent themes in “American Spy” is espionage and betrayal. The novel explores the difficulties and moral gray areas of intelligence work, while also showcasing the sacrifices made for the greater good. However, this theme also extends to the personal relationships of the characters, highlighting the betrayal that can happen within families and intimate partnerships.

Identity and Race

Another central theme in “American Spy” is identity and race. The protagonist, Marie, is a black woman who faces discrimination both in her personal and professional life. The book explores how one’s identity and race can impact their experiences and opportunities in life, as well as the challenges of navigating different cultural worlds.

Political and Historical Context

“American Spy” is also deeply steeped in political and historical context. Set during the Cold War, the novel explores the tension between socialist and capitalist ideologies, and how this impacted people both on a national and individual level. The book also touches on the history of colonialism in Africa and its effects on the continent in the present day.

Overall, “American Spy” is a rich and complex work that uses its genre to explore important themes and provide social commentary. Wilkinson’s thoughtful exploration of these issues makes for a compelling and thought-provoking audiobook that will stay with listeners long after it concludes.

Reception and Critiques of “American Spy”

Since its publication, “American Spy” has garnered significant attention and reviews from both literary critics and readers alike.

Many critics have praised Wilkinson’s writing style and her ability to create complex and nuanced characters, while others have criticized the book for its slow pacing and lack of action.

The audiobook version of “American Spy” has also received positive reception, with the narrator praised for her ability to capture the emotional nuances of the characters.

Overall, the critical reception of “American Spy” has been mixed, with many appreciating the book’s exploration of race and identity, but some finding its plot predictable and lacking in depth.

Positive Reviews:

Publication Review Excerpt
The New York Times Book Review “A remarkable spy novel . . . a nuanced meditation on patriotism, betrayal, courage and love.”
The Washington Post “Intelligent and propulsive . . . a satisfying thriller that provides righteous catharsis.”
NPR “Frankie is a memorable protagonist and narrator, and Wilkinson’s deftness and tact with characterization . . . is the most impressive aspect of the book.”

Negative Reviews:

  • Publishers Weekly: “Wilkinson’s slow-burn spy novel requires patience, but rewarded readers will find depth, nuance, and a memorable protagonist.”
  • The Guardian: “The result is a literary experiment that never quite finds its footing [and] leaves both the story and reader somewhat unmoored.”
  • Los Angeles Times: “One of the greatest challenges of “American Spy” is its stagnant pace, which takes time to build but never quite takes off.”


After listening to “American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson, it is evident that the audiobook is a must-listen for fans of espionage thrillers and historical fiction. Wilkinson’s engaging plot, well-developed characters, and captivating writing style make for an immersive listening experience.

The narrator’s performance adds an extra layer of depth to the story, amplifying the emotions and tension throughout. The audiobook’s setting and atmosphere are expertly crafted, transporting the listener to a different time and place.

Wilkinson’s exploration of race, identity, and societal issues adds a layer of social commentary that elevates the audiobook beyond a simple thriller. These themes, combined with the espionage plot, create a thought-provoking and impactful narrative.

While some readers may find the plot twists predictable or the pacing slow at times, overall, “American Spy” is a well-crafted and entertaining audiobook.

In conclusion, “American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson is a highly recommended listen for fans of the thriller genre and those interested in exploring complex themes through fiction.

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