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The Lawless Roads Hardcover – Import, 1955

4.3 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Import, 1955

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 289 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann; Uniform Edition edition (1955)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434305146
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434305148
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,095,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
Reading The Lawless Roads reminded me of a comment from Albert Camus from his notebooks: 'What gives value to travel is its fear. It is the fact that when we are so far from our own country we are siezed by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits'.

This is Graham Greene in Mexico. Travelling through the dry, dusty, mosquito and tick fly riven states of Southern Mexico in the 1930s, a period when the Catholic Church was under severe persecution from the state, Green clings on to the two things that remind him of happier times and nations - his Englishness, and the Catholic Church. His prologue is set in England, the title of his book comes from a piece of verse, quoted at the start, by the Scottish poet Edwin Muir and throughout his turbulent journey he seeks solace in quintissentially English writers such as Trollope and William Cobbett.

It is evident that Greene loathes Mexico. At one point he writes of the country 'No hope anywhere. I have never been in a country where you are more aware all the time of hate'. He finds, during his travels, a Godless, immoral and violently dangerous state. He retains a colonial contempt for the natives he comes across with their 'expressionless brown eyes' and is mistrustful of everyone. He defends the under fire Catholicism with extraordinary bias, declaring the Catholic Church 'Perhaps the only body in the world today which consistently - and sometimes successfully opposes the totalitarian state'. Remember this was the same period as the Spanish Civil war.

He plunges the depths in Tabasco, a state where Catholic persecution was particularly strong - 'One felt one was drawing near to the centre of something - if it was only of darkness and abandonment'.
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Format: Paperback
I read about this book in a New Republic article about Lopez Obrador, the leftist who recently lost in Mexico's presidential election. Obrador is from the southern state of Tabasco, an isolated, southern state that Greene visits in this book. Greene's interest in the state stems from the fact that in the 1930's the region's governor spearheaded one of the most virulent anti-religious campaigns in all of Mexico. Greene was commissioned to write about how Mexicans were coping during this period of intense suppression of religious expression. My interest in the book was purely historical and sociological; I wanted to better understand the ideology that led the state to clamp down on religious institutions and how ordinary Mexicans reacted to this. In that sense, the book did not quite live up to my expectations. Instead, in spite of the beautiful prose (which ensures a pretty quick read) and occasional sparks of wisdom, the book read like a bitter, disgruntled travelogue.

For starters, as Greene himself concedes, his Spanish was apparently not so good at the time, something that obviously limited his ability to talk with ordinary Mexicans who knew no English (this is not to mention that many of the Indians in Tabasco and Chiapas did not even speak Spanish). Tabasco and Chiapas are both built up at as hearts of darkness; he announces at the beginning of the book his intention to visit these remote places, but he does not even reach Tabasco until halfway through the book, as the first part consists of his journey from Texas down to Mexico City. And then, when he finally does reach these places, the effect is rather anti-climactic, as he doesn't even seem to talk to any ordinary Mexicans about the religious situation.
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Format: Paperback
The Lawless Roads is an unusual read for anyone who knows Graham Greene’s other work. There are snippets here of the author’s recognisable tone - an acquaintance, for instance, described as having done a correspondence course in personality - but overall this book comes across as little more than an argumentative diatribe, delivered from a singular perspective, a position that narratives in the author’s other work do not usually occupy.

The Lawless Roads takes the form of a travelogue. Its journey is linear. Graham Greene is visiting Mexico in the nineteen thirties and from the start he is a man with a mission. As a committed and practising Roman Catholic, he seems to seek out examples of how the Mexican Revolution has pursued its repression and persecution of the Church. Unlike much of Graham Greene’s other work, the Lawless Roads employs a consistently linear structure as the author describes the sequence of his apparently arduous travels through the country. He meets with locals and expatriates, little folk, peasants and professionals, clerics and laity. There are related experiences that achieve the same poignancy of observation and expression that Greene achieves throughout his work, but these merely and occasionally punctuate the whole, rather bad-tempered affair.

Graham Greene clearly did not enjoy Mexico. It might be argued that he arrived with his mind already made up. No, it can be assumed he did so, and he proceeded to find exactly what he sought, as he had predicted.

A consistent and repeated thread that runs apparently innocuously through the text is the author’s attitude to Mexican food. It provided such memorably negative experiences that it seems to have provoked a description of almost every meal.
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