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Our Man in Havana (Penguin Classics) Paperback – July 31, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century manÆs consciousness and anxiety. (William Golding)

As comical, satirical, atmospherical an ÆentertainmentÆ as he has given us. (The Daily Telegraph, London)

About the Author

Graham Greene (1904-1991), whose long life nearly spanned the length of the twentieth century, was one of its greatest novelists. Educated at Berkhamsted School and Balliol College, Oxford, he started his career as a sub-editor of the London TimesHe began to attract notice as a novelist with his fourth book, Orient Expressin 1932. In 1935, he trekked across northern Liberia, his first experience in Africa, told in A Journey Without Maps (1936). He converted to Catholicism in 1926, an edifying decision, and reported on religious persecution in Mexico in 1938 in The Lawless Roadswhich served as a background for his famous The Power and the Glory, one of several “Catholic” novels (Brighton RockThe Heart of the MatterThe End of the Affair). During the war he worked for the British secret service in Sierra Leone; afterward, he began wide-ranging travels as a journalist, which were reflected in novels such as The Quiet AmericanOur Man in HavanaThe ComediansTravels with My AuntThe Honorary ConsulThe Human FactorMonsignor Quixoteand The Captain and the EnemyAs well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, two books of autobiography, A Sort of Life and Ways of Escape, two biographies, and four books for children. He also contributed hundreds of essays and film and book reviews to The Spectator and other journals, many of which appear in the late collection ReflectionsMost of his novels have been filmed, including The Third Man, which the author first wrote as a film treatment. Graham Greene was named Companion of Honour and received the Order of Merit among numerous other awards.

Christopher Hitchens is a widely published polemicist and frequent radio and TV commentator.  He is the author of many books, including Why Orwell Matters, Letters to a Young Contrarian, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, as well as books on Cyprus, Kurdistan and Palestine, including Blaming the Victims coedited with Edward Said.  He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and writes for, among others, Slate, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Book Review, and The Washington Post.  He lives with his family in Washington, D.C.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (July 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142438006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142438008
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
Wormold is a British national living in Havana who tries to make a living by selling vacuum cleaners. However, sales are not going so well and part of the blame can be attributed to the new model "Atomic Pile Suction Cleaner," which aroused negative connotations at the height of the Cold War. At that exact point of despair, Wormold is being recruited by a British secret agent in order to establish a network of agents, and hence have a firmer "intelligence" grip in the Caribbean. Wormold sees this opportunity as a way to enrich himself and provide for his beautiful daughter. Yet, he knows that in order to ask for more funds from the agencies he needs to recruit agents. What could be better and easier than inventing these agents? Who could possibly know? However, after an easy and successful start, fictional events are starting to become reality. From there, it all goes sour.

As Hitchens says in the introduction, Greene classified his books into two categories, novels and entertainment. "Our Man in Havana" naturally falls into the entertainment category, and very good entertainment, I must say. Greene's writing is witty and funny and the characters are loveable (Geoffrey Rush would be perfect for the role of Wormold). If you expect nothing more than witty writing and pure entertainment, you cannot go wrong here.
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Format: Paperback
... about a really funny book except "Read it! You won't be sorry! You'll split a seam!"

But I won't spoil any of the humor by explaining it; let's just declare that it's verrry Brrrritish. Besides, you've probably seen the movie, right? With Alec Guinness, whom else? I do have something to say about the milieu of the novel -- Graham Greene calls it an 'entertainment rather than a novel -- which was published first in England in 1958. Presumably, therefore, it was written in 1957 or earlier. How well do you know the history of Cuba before Castro? Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar was in the middle of his second stint as "the United States-aligned Cuban President, dictator and military leader" -- to quote wikipedia -- a police-state regime that lasted until 1959. Batista's tyranny was lurid, sadistic, financially and morally corrupt on a scale rivaled by few of history's true villains. Interestingly, Batista is never mentioned in "Our Man in Havana". Neither is Fidel Castro, though the presence of "rebels' in the hinterlands is rumored, chiefly as an excuse for police brutality; there were two classes of people in Cuba, according to one police officer ... those who could be tortured, i.e. the Poor, and those who couldn't. Greene's characters are chiefly the latter, the rich and the foreigners, the sort whom it's 'safer' to murder than to torture. Does it sound a bit like an Ian Fleming spy thriller? The first half dozen 'James Bond' novels were written in the same decade as "Our Man in Havana". One could, i suppose, puzzle over the question of who was spoofing whom?

"Our Man" -- our reluctant spy, that is -- is the Cuban agent for a British vacuum cleaner manufacturer.
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Format: Paperback
Graham Greene, a major, well-known 20th century British author, had a very long life, most of the century, and a very long and prolific writing career. He may be best known for The Third Man;The End of the Affair, and The Power and the Glory (Penguin Classics); but his books were greatly honored, highly-praised by the critics, generally best sellers, and often made into movies, as were the titles cited above. (The Third Man (50th Anniversary Edition) - Criterion Collection; The End of the Affair.( So was this one filmed,Our Man in Havana). The book is a later work of his, initially published on October 6, 1958, and just re-released. Greene famously divided his books into 'novels,' such as "The Power," and 'entertainments,' such as "Our Man." While working on the book at hand, he wrote to the Indian writer R.K. Narayan, a friend, that he was at work on "a rather hack job, an entertainment called 'Our Man in Havana.' I am getting too old to boil the pot." However, he also wrote to his mistress Catherine Walston in 1956 that "Our Man" was potentially a "very funny plot which if it comes off will make a footnote to history.Read more ›
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I've read several of Graham Greene's novels that are marked as the serious ones and have loved them all (especially The Power and the Glory and The Burnt-Out Case). He is clearly one of the best writers of the twentieth century. I've also always appreciated that he worked within the confines of the traditional novel, and the fact that he also produced quality genre fiction is even more unique and intriguing to me. I've always wanted to get around to some of his lighter fare.

Our Man in Havana is my first crack at one of Greene's spy novels, though I knew going in that it wasn't supposed to be a prototypical spy tale but more of a satire on them. Whatever it was, it was a good read.

Our Man in Havana is about Jim Wormold, a pretty pathetic divorced expatriate vacuum salesman living in Havana, whose daughter has begun to strain his limited income. He soon finds himself being recruited by a bumbling military intelligence agent to spy for the crown. He accidentally agrees to do the work, but finds that the money is quite good when he begins turning in fictitious reports and recruiting fictitious subagents (who have the names of real people with whom he's acquainted). Things turn bad, though, when his reports are believed by the intelligence agencies of multiple countries, and people's lives are put into danger.

The novel is satirical in that British way that's silly, understated, and almost light-hearted but that also wields a sharp edge upon closer look (Waugh, Powell, and Spark could also pull it off). This makes for a crisply-written, quickly paced, and chuckle-inducing read.
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