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Starting a Penguin abridged edition of Edward Gibbon's 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'.
Goddam, Gibbon could write...
Goddam, Gibbon could write...
A great review, as always. The details are fed to the reader of the review at an accelerating pace, securing the readers interest and imprisoning his/her mind with the details of the story...and then it stops, with we readers literally begging to be fed the details of the books conclusion and left with no other option than to acquire and read the book! Quoting the great cartoon character Snoopy, "Curse you, Red Baron!"View attachment 49776
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene published in 1958
A tired, middle-aged British expat living in Cuba whose wife left him with a charmingly willful and crafty daughter to raise is running a struggling vacuum cleaner dealership. And now, with his daughter's expenses increasing as she gets older, he is all but unable to make ends meet until fate drops an opportunity in his lap.
If left alone, James Wormold would be content to pass away his time licking his marital and career wounds in Havana, while raising his daughter. But that daughter wields her Catholic faith (he's a lapsed Protestant or "pagan" as she calls him) and forceful temperament like a weapon to coax and guilt what she wants out of him. Unfortunately, her victories have him sliding toward bankruptcy. Hence, when he's approached by Britain's MI6 to be "their man in Havana," his initial resistance breaks down as the additional income from spying looks appealing.
The problem is he has no background and receives all but no training from MI6 in espionage, so he does what any reasonable, amoral, modestly desperate but creative man would do, he makes up a network of spies versus actually doing the real work to recruit them.
This is the book's perfect moment: a life-weary vacuum cleaner dealer with a charmingly manipulative and spendthrift daughter discovers a talent for taking bits and pieces from local newspapers, government economic statistics and Havana's social registry to create a convincing network of non-existent spies that delivers fake reports so credible that the home office is impressed.
And that also becomes the problem. His "information" and "network" are viewed as being so good in the eyes of his superiors that MI6 sends him more resources, including a secretary and radio man. His small office quickly becomes quite crowded making it hard for him to "create" his reports with, in particular, his new, smart and attractive secretary trying to organize his efforts and, even, become the contact for his ersatz network. Effectively, it's hard to find time to file fake reports from your fake network when your new staff wants to meet your non-existent real network and file real reports.
Amping everything up, both the Havana government and the USSR get interested in his activities as they, too, believe his efforts are real; ironically, they believe because MI6 believes. Okay, so our humble vacuum cleaner dealer finds himself in the middle of a cold-war spy battle over his whole-cloth network. And when things start to get serious - midnight chases, assassination attempts, actual murders, threatened torture, you know, real spy stuff - he can't easily back out as no one believes him when he tells them he made everything up.
Because spies operate in a covert world of lies and deception, his "I made this all up" confession appears to everyone else like just another machination from the brilliant British spymaster in Havana. Throw in a local police chief trying to court Wormold's daughter while also investigating Wormold's covert activities, and Wormold's own budding affair with his secretary, who's beginning to get suspicious of him, and the entire gambit starts to unravel as the book races to a conclusion. And we'll leave it there as you'll want the end to be a surprise.
As a fan of Graham Greene's complex stories that have this reader, usually, a little lost for a while, it's nice to read one of his lighter efforts. Despite being just that, it still has all of Greene's usual wit and canny observations, especially of human wants and foibles, but without requiring the reader to regularly thumb back pages to figure out what the heck is going on.
Some hard-core Greene fans dismiss Our Man in Havana as "entertainment," but, one, what's wrong with that and, two, it's also satire that exposes the arrogance and insularity of several countries' intelligence efforts. Either way, it's a fun, well-written, quick page turner that also gives you a contemporary feel for both the Cold War's intelligence game and pre-communist Cuba.
Thank you for your kind comments.A great review, as always. The details are fed to the reader of the review at an accelerating pace, securing the readers interest and imprisoning his/her mind with the details of the story...and then it stops, with we readers literally begging to be fed the details of the books conclusion and left with no other option than to acquire and read the book! Quoting the great cartoon character Snoopy, "Curse you, Red Baron!"
PS: Great work...looking forward to the next one.
Later, Hamilton talks about the tempests which sometimes spring up and afflict a republic. I did think it interesting that he talks about the inevitability of popular 'paroxysms' which could burn hot and take in fair-sized segments of the population.Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellow citizens of one great, respectable, and flourishing empire. [...] No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it conveys; the kindred blood which flows in the veins of American citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defense of their sacred rights, consecrate their Union, and excite horror at the idea of their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies.
I am constantly amazed at how the "essentials" of The American Character were already set as early as the 18th century.I'm halfway through Gibbon's 'Decline and fall' and still really enjoying it. Some remarkable turns of phrase. Truly this is among the best prose ever committed to the page.
I'm also listening to an audiobook of The Federalist Papers, which I have to say is fascinating and also rife with interesting insights.
Madison wrote this, which really stuck with me from a few days ago:-
Later, Hamilton talks about the tempests which sometimes spring up and afflict a republic. I did think it interesting that he talks about the inevitability of popular 'paroxysms' which could burn hot and take in fair-sized segments of the population.