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The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene

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Since 2008, more than 4,000 people have been killed there, though Juárez was being patrolled by about 10,000 troops and federal police. In 2007, there were about 2,300 drug-related killings - in the entire country. Quote from Murder City by Charles Bowden. Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/23/RV7R1CQKAG.DTL#ixzz0m0hzDB6h


In the late 1930’s Graham Greene accepted a commission to visit Mexico and write about the religious situation there. A time when the brutal anti clerical purges instigated by President Calles were destroying churches and leaving believers without the ministrations of the church. No official baptism or confessional, no funeral rites or mass. The priests in hiding travelling only in disguise.


Greene starts his journey in America then crosses over into Mexico and slowly makes his way to Mexico City then on to the states of Basco and Chiapas.


He doesn’t like the Mexicans he doesn’t like their brown eyes and their ability to smile in adversity. He moans a lot, though to be fair to him he has a lot to moan about.


Sailing across the Gulf of Mexico on

a flat barge with a few feet of broken rail, an old funnel you could almost touch with your hand from the shore, a bell hanging on a worn piece of string, an oil lamp and a bundle of turkeys. One rotting little boat dangled inadequately from the davits.

Six people in his cabin, the boat rolling all night, the only ‘privy’

a horrible cupboard in the engine room, no ventilation, no flushing and the ordure of I don’t know how many days and voyages.


The journey took forty one hours,

no beer nor mineral water on board…………. only the dubious water in a tin filter above the wash-basin, and that ran out completely after twelve hours.


Other journeys involved days on mules, crowded buses or a small plane whilst suffering from dysentery. Living in local hovels, rats and bugs for company. Meetings with a rebel General, an impoverished American dentist, and a Norwegian widow. Attending a secret Mass and being ignored because he was European.


This isn’t a feel good book but the power of Greene’s writing, his command of language make it an enjoyable read.


On the ship home he meets a German who is being held in custody en route back to Germany to stand trial. After hearing his story Greene asks “And why hadn’t you any papers?”


The German replies

they were stolen from me in a hotel. Up by the American border. In Juarez. A bad town. Nothing but murder all the time.

As has been said many times before, nothing changes in this world.

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    • By Calliope
      The first thing I discovered when I opend my hardback copy was that the sleeve was wrapped around the wrong book. I was a bit curious about why the introduction kept referring to Greene's 'The Heart of the Matter' until I realised that the book i was about to read in fact was 'The Heart of the Matter'

      Fortunately, scanning my shelves, eventually I found the dust jacket to 'The Heart of the Matter' and - bingo! - inside it was 'Brighton Rock' Some one or other of my sons is most likely responsible for this, at some point. Though it might have been me too. In any case, I'm glad to be about to read the same book as everone else!

      Gentlemen - and ladies - start your engines.
    • By chuntzy
      I thought this novel was well-written, pacy and atmospheric.

      The working-class world of the late 30s is portrayed quite vividly, whether trippers down from London determined to extract every last minute of enjoyment from their precious day out, or underpaid and overworked café workers like Rose, or the criminal fraternity of Pinkie and his gang in their seedy bed-sits. The relatively new bungalows strung out eastwards along the coast road are by no means depicted as visions of a bright new world (one can imagine Greene’s views) but somehow just as sad.

      And Pinkie. What to write? He has no redeeming features. The Catholic background seems to have imprinted certain words in his brain but they are unconnected to his actions. Right and wrong apparently have no meaning for Pinkie or Rose but for them the notions of ‘Good and Evil are stronger’. Perhaps for Rose but aren’t they nothing but a religious mantra for Pinkie? I can’t work that out. However he does seem to know that he’s damned. And then there’s the strange admixture of Puritanism: in sexual matters, his ‘soured virginity’ doesn’t come from doctrinal teachings but from his childhood experiences of hearing and seeing his parents engaged in sex on Saturday nights. He’s not a drinker either. He’s a youth so full of hatred that you almost shrink from him on the page.

      Buxom Ida is light relief thank goodness, and moves the narrative forward. As for Rose, I alternatively screamed at her and pitied her.

      Some lines stay with me. Ida says of Hale ‘He wasn’t anything to anyone, that’s the trouble.’ The inspector in the police station ‘tried to hide a tin of fruit-drops behind the telephone’. Rose’s fidelity ‘touched him like cheap music’.

      Yes, I admired the novel.

      P.S.The oft repeated ‘betwixt the stirrup and the ground’ sent me to my book of quotations: it was a line in an epitaph written in C16 by William Camden
    • By megustaleer
      I'm less than half way through this book, and am struggling, I don't like heat, dust, sweat and insect books, and although I can recognise the skill of GG's writing I have yet to enjoy a novel of his, or feel any kind of interest in his subjects, who seem in the main to be disillusioned, isolated, defeated, and trapped middle-aged men.
      I nearly didn't get past the first chapter. There are five references in it to phlegm and spitting, and I get quite enough of old men gobbing on the floor at work, without having to read about it. If the second chapter had continued in the same vein I would have packed it in.
      Fortunately, there started to be a hint of a plot about 30 pages in, so I am perservering, but unfortunately, being of a non-conformist persuasion, I am unable to comprehend the need the villagers have for the services of a priest. Nor do I understand how having the right, consecrated, bits of equipment for the Mass validates it when he himself seems to be in such an unconsecrated state. Clearly that is an attitude which limits my access to GG's themes, but I don't think the book is going to help me deal with these questions, as I think these teaching are accepted as 'a given' in Greene's writing.
    • By Barblue
      Having just finished this book for one of my RL reading groups, I came here to look for some reviews. I am amazed that we have only reviewed one of this man's prolific output, but that was very interesting to read in itself.
      I found The Quiet American to be a quick read. I loved the writing style which didn't seem to waste words unnecessarily, giving the writing an almost poetic feel. All the major characters were well written, except perhaps Phuong, the Vietnamese girlfriend. I felt, like you Meg, that they all had major flaws yet each had a redeeming feature too.
      Phuong created a lot of discussion within our group. The attitude of Vietnamese women, the period of time in which the book was set and the needs and desires of men were all areas that we touched upon in detail.
      This book is set in Vietnam during the French rule and on the cusp of the American intervention. It was interesting to read this book knowing what happened after the time in which it was set, and also to compare that against today's invasions of Iraq.
      Although the subject matter is dark and depressing, I, like most of the group, felt that the writing lifted the book to a level that gave enjoyment almost from the joy of Greene's style itself.
      Having only read Our Man in Havana before, and that many years ago, I think I will be reading more of Greene in the foreseeable future.
    • By litarena
      Assessments of this book vary enormously. Some say it's not one of Greene's best and others say it's one of his most chilling and captivating. I'm very interested in Haiti generally. So I'd have to say that I was enthralled.
      For me this book contains much of the threat, magic and mysticism of a genuine and dangerous world viewed somewhat vicariously by a number of people, some of whom are far too trusting, almost fatally so. Many of their interpretations, both of each other and of their situation, don't fit well with me and others do. For example the central character appears to me to be much too harsh a judge of himself.
      If the reader looks sharply at the political angle of Greene's tale it's easy to see why past readers have been disturbed by his book.
      I wrote a complete review here: http://www.litarena.com/thrillers/political-thrillers/the-comedians-graham-greene.php
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