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Comediants-favourite book

Graham Greene did not feel this was his favorite work, and according to Paul Theroux, it's not his best. [Read Theroux's introduction, which should have been called the Afterword, AFTER reading the book.] Yet this novel captures a historic time and the fate of a "failed state" under the spell of a mad dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier, whose obsessions with Voodoo and power engender perpetual terror and ruin, enforced by his personal goon squad, the sunglass-clad Toutons Macoute. Greene brilliantly divides the world into "comedians" and those who actually do something. We meet a rich mix of both, beginning with Brown, Smith, and Jones, the comics, on a Dutch ship with a Greek name, the Medea, in Greek mythology an enchantress who repeatedly resorted to murder to gain her ends, like Papa Doc and others in this enchanting book. Greene weaves a tight narrative, for the most part, where dialog comes at you in staccato fashion, revealing the soft spots, lies, and bluffs of each speaker. Brown, Greene's persona, narrates the book and shows himself to be a brooding egotist dwelling on his lost father and falsely promising youth at the Jesuit College of the Visitation at Monte Carlo, where his mother had abandoned him. He's the jealous, possessive sort, a lapsed Catholic who has replaced his faith with unattainable romance. His lover, Martha, the wife of a South American diplomat, is always in his thoughts, even though he attempts to keep her out. He dwells on her every word. Greene gives their secret affair a real feel of desperation and passion, mixed with distrust and futility. We also meet Mr. and Mrs. Smith, naive American do gooders who absurdly want to open a vegetarian center in the midst of Haiti's nightmarish capital. Then there's Jones, a grifter who is the victim of his own comic farce. The "doers" are Dr. Magiot, a closet communist who sincerely tries to save lives in the name of humanity, and Philipot, who starts off as a poet and ends up in the mountains with a ragged band of rebels trying to overthrow the beast.
Greene also shows us in a sweeping gesture the disastrous policy of the US in Latin America, as President Johnson, in an attempt to keep communism out of the region, backed the lunatic Duvalier with troops, to the utter dismay of his victims. Greene was long onto America's mischief and meddling here and elsewhere, to the point where the FBI, for 40 years, had monitored his statements and his movements, according to Theroux. In this sense, this novel is relevant to today's naive global comic and tragic American policies of ridiculously attempting to "democratize" the world, while moving American corporations into these so-called liberated nations. Greene would have very much howled about Bush's "faith-based" missteps across the globe, and he would have found plenty of failed states and shady comic and tragic characters to write about.

Above all, here is a novel that "counts." Because it exists, Duvalier's Haiti is preserved in its hothouse cruelty and lurid details. Although Brown's brooding is sometimes self-centered and indulgent, you will still walk away from this novel richer for having read it. The misery it vividly portrays still stalks the earth, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.
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