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

4.3 out of 5 stars 163 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: 5.1 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 (163 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAME on May 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
This 1958 novel was a complete surprise to me. I'd read three books by this author before and found them dark and introspective. But "Our Man in Havana" is a satirical spoof and I found myself giggling throughout. It deals with a theme that Greene has revisited on many occasions - that of a spy in a foreign country. But this time, it's all in fun, although between the 220 pages of this slim volume, he manages to say a few important things about social class, the Catholic Church, and the absurdity of international relations.
The hero of the story is Jim Wormold, a divorced vacuum cleaner salesman from England in pre-Castro Cuba. His 17-year-old daughter is growing up fast and he finds he needs money. So when the British Secret Service recruits him, he invents a whole world of secret agents and intrigues just to keep the money flowing. He is even sent a secretary, which introduces a bit of romance to the outrageous plot. All of a sudden, the lies he has invented seem to be coming true and the plot thickens, moving along at a breakneck pace. I was totally involved, and found myself laughing out loud at times. What a delightful read! Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I went into OUR MAN IN HAVANA with very few expectations. I was under the vague impression that it was a thriller of sorts and I somehow knew that there had a been a film made out of it a number of decades back. So I was a bit surprised when I started reading the book and found out that it was a comedy. Surprised and delighted, because OUR MAN turned out to be one of the more understated and enjoyable satires that I've read in a good long time.
The book is a smart send up of a lot of the standard material one would have found in the noir films and books of the time (the novel was published in 1958, when the genre was starting to wear itself out). A British secret agent, looking to increase his community of contacts, has arranged for an ordinary vacuum cleaner salesman to file reports of any unusual activity in the area. The merchant, Mr. Wormold, reluctantly agrees to this arrangement for no reason other than the lure of extra money; he has a teenage daughter with very expensive tastes (to whit: men and horses). To keep himself employable, Wormold constructs a whole world of intrigue to write home about. The back-cover hints at one of the book's funnier gags, but all of Wormold's fictions (and especially the reaction they receive at the other end) are hilarious.
Despite the comic portions of the plot, the characters themselves are allowed to retain a certain dignity. The prose is also as lush as one would expect from a Graham Greene novel. One particular scene stood out as a wonderful piece of writing. Placing two main characters inside a dark, dingy saloon, Greene describes the other inhabitants as looking like paratroopers about to parachute out of an airplane. Their quick glances at the door and their hushed demeanor are all exquisitely described.
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Format: Paperback
More successful than most of Greene's "entertainments," this comic spy tale set in pre-Castro Cuba concerns an insignificant little man-a vacuum cleaner salesman to be precise-who, against his better judgment, becomes MI6's "man in Havana." A longtime Havana resident, Englishman Jim Wormold is divorced, but the custodian of his beautiful, Catholic teenage daughter, Millie. One day he is approached by Hawthorne-a hilariously daft MI6 agent, whose speech is littered with upper crust slang-who shanghais him into becoming a spy. Although he is resistant to the whole notion, his best friend (a German named Hasselbacher), suggests he simply manufacture his sources and intelligence and take the ample money. Millie's expensive tastes and his own devotion to her result in his succumbing to this temptation, and he spends a few happy weeks inventing subagents and fake intelligence. For the first time in years he's doing something interesting, and no longer has money worries-in the funniest bit, he submits drawings of vacuum cleaner parts as sketches of a new Cuban weapons installation.
Of course, this being Greene, complications arise. He is sent reinforcements from the London office, and must scramble to keep them in the dark as to his deception. At the same time, his inventions seem to be taking on a life of their own as people start dying around him, and somebody seems to think he's a real spy. Integral to all this is the ever-present Captain Seguras, a policeman of some renown as a sadist who seeks Millie's hand in marriage. Although a deep melancholy and tragedy lurks in the background, and there's a rather lame love injected, it remains a delightfully absurd tale, one of Greene's better efforts.
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Format: Paperback
In this novel, set in Cuba in the days before Castro, Mr Greene is at his most ironic. He tells the tale of Jim Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman who lives quietly in Havana and worries about his devoutly Catholic teenage daughter whom he is raising as a single parent. He is unexpectedly recruited, in a public toilet, by the British Secret Service to "keep an eye on things" in Cuba. When no obvious "things" present themselves, Wormold decides to invent agents and situations to pad his reports. But then things start to go wrong and reality begins to mirror fiction.
Graham Greene captures the sleepy, sensual heat of the Caribbean perfectly. His characters are extraordinarily vividly painted and the book lurches wildly from comedy to tragedy to farce, damning the bureaucrats, the police and the sinister, grey men of the secret services along the way. With The Comedians and Brighton Rock this must surely rank as one of Mr Greene's best entertainments.
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