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Our Man in Havana Paperback – July 31, 2007
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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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 Times. He began to attract notice as a novelist with his fourth book, Orient Express, in 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 Roads, which served as a background for his famous The Power and the Glory, one of several “Catholic” novels (Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The 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 American, Our Man in Havana, The Comedians, Travels with My Aunt, The Honorary Consul, The Human Factor, Monsignor Quixote, and The Captain and the Enemy. As 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 Reflections. Most 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.
Top customer reviews
The one thing Jim Wormold rightly assesses is, no one knows what is really going on. The directions from the home office are so vague that it is easy enough to invent agents and reports and not get caught, even when the home office sends the lovely agent Beatrice to pose as his secretary. It does not take long, though, for his deceptions to be picked up as truth, which multiplies the absurd intrigues and pushes him into the sinister heart of a place where a local police captain who lusts after Wormold's daughter coolly delivers a scary appraisal of who belongs to the "torturable" and "untorturable" classes. The ending is very funny but there are some tragedies leading up to it, the collateral damage of operating in the vortex of the world's political and moral ambiguities. Our Man in Havana is a run up of sorts to Greene's later novel The Human Factor, in which nothing is funny at all but the same question is asked of both protagonists: what do you put first, family or country?
Christopher Hitchens provides a decent critical introduction to the Penguin edition and like all critical introductions it is pocked with spoilers, so read it as an afterward. He puts the novel in context with Greene's life and literary themes. Our Man in Havana was out there, complete with an agent number assigned by the home office, before James Bond and before George Smiley. With the Cold War robbed of its meaning after the Berlin Wall came down, and with intelligence mangled by political ambitions in the early 21st century, it is interesting to see that these stalwarts of the spy genre still have something with which to amuse or soberly ponder the world.
The mood is set early, as is the tone as Greene paints the world of the main character, Jim Wormold, and his life in Cuba. Greene's narrative just drips with color and descriptive text insomuch as you can almost smell the air around our man. He introduces the other players at, what seems, just the right time. This story has a comedic overtone that has your tongue firmly planted in your cheek early on and, for the entire length of the book, your tongue never comes out your cheek. Oh the irony of the whole situation.
At first, our hero is reluctant to take on the task of "secret agent" but, as his young daughter grows and demands a better lifestyle he chooses self pride and parental pacification over morals and self-respect. Sinking deeper into his other life, he concocts fabricated reports that, he feels, justify his monthly stipend from the bureau. Unfortunately, the powers that be are taking his imagination seriously. The web tightens.
Superb stuff from the mind of Graham Greene. It's a fast read and, you'll love it.