Thursday, June 4, 2009
The Comedians by Graham Greene
I fully expected to think well of this book - I did, though not at all for the reasons I expected. I thought this book would appeal to my long interest in Haiti - it is a novel, after all, about a group of foreigners in Duvalierist Port-au-Prince. The novel did a fine job of telling how horrible Haiti under Duvalier was - and it certainly was.
However, the novel is great beyond that - after all, one could learn plenty of gruesome facts about Haiti from... well... almost any book that has to do with Haiti. The real pervading part of this book, for me, was the theme of truth and illusion throughout. None of the characters is who they seem to be, and that's common enough in a book. But what was compelling to me about this book was that you begin to realize that it doesn't matter, really, who these people in the protagonist's life really are, because he does not talk to them, he talks to the people they are playing, and the people he has cast them as in his life narrative. So, when each character in turn reveals more about their real selves, the narrator (and in a sense, the reader) feels a sort of dissapointment, a very profound sort. In the Comedians, everyone is the Wizard of Oz, hiding behind a curtain, and there is no Glinda to send Dorothy home at the end. There isn't even really a wicked witch - Duvalier, after all, is a wizard too, holed up in his palace, afraid to show his face, forever divining which of his henchman wants to take his place.
I have not always been the most honest person in my life, and watching this long procession of liars was heart-wrenching - at least for me, it was easy to recognize each of them, from the mild, shrugging lies of the protagonist, to Majro Jones, who desperately wants to prove his lies true, who ruins his greatest strength by using it to pretend he has other strengths that he utterly lacks. Each of these drifting souls sags slowly through the novel, never really finding a place to moor, just finding a new corner to slink into, quietly, and try to live. Noone in this book is really hateable, short of, perhaps, Duvalier, and noone is loveable, they are all, nakedly human. The questions Greene raises about justice, about how injustice is destroyed, about what it takes to be courageous, about the close alliance of blind faith and sheer stupidity, of heroism and selfishness, are chilling and sobering.
PS - I could tell you I picked the image because it has a lot to do with this book 0- I could bs a connection between the two. I actually picked it, because it reminds me of my reviewing style.