Maybe you haven't noticed, maybe you don't care, maybe you were silently cheering to yourself, but: my Graham Greene obsession continues on, despite the dearth of Greene-related posts lately. Since the last one I've read The Lawless Roads and The Power and the Glory, the latter of which I've been meaning to say... something... about. Like, for instance, that it is ridiculous that this brilliant, simple but majestic novel came from Graham Greene, whose prior ten books were mostly great but nevertheless had a real workhorse/journeyman thing going on. I love Greene as a craftsman, the way he handles plot as if it were the least mysterious thing a novelist need figure out. But The Power and the Glory is just too perfect. Prior to embarking on my quest to read all of his books in a row, in order, I'd read this novel and two others, all bona fide classics of English literature. My hope was that by reading his works straight through I might get a stronger sense of his trajectory as a writer. To some extent that's true, but the leap he took from Brighton Rock to The Power and the Glory (including the travelogue and an entertainment in between) is astounding.
Anyway, this isn't meant to be my P&G post. More of a placeholder for a Lawless Roads post. This was Greene's book of nonfiction which he wrote just prior to P&G. He went to Mexico for a month and traveled around the southern part of that country, which had just come out of some serious anti-Catholic purges. Religion was outlawed, churces were burned, priests were executed. The worst was over by the time Greene got there, though its effects were still apparent.
I bring this up because, coincidentally, The Millions had a nice review/summary of the book yesterday. My two cents: as travelogues go I found Journey Without Maps a better read. Greene went to Africa really with no expectations and frankly no ability when it came to traveling. His Mexico trip, on the other hand, while interesting, was more premeditated: he was looking for specific material. (Interestingly, however, he didn't really find it.)
A lot of people likely pick up The Lawless Roads because they read The Power and the Glory first and want to learn more about what "really" happened in Mexico in this not-too-distant past. I'm not so sure that's actually the best thing to do. For one, as Norman Sherry exhaustively illustrates in his biography of Greene, Greene pillaged his nonfiction work for scenes, characters, descriptions, and sometimes entire passages nearly word for word, to use in his fictionalized account. Since Greene's real-life experience came after all the real danger in Mexico (not to mention it is self-aware in the extreme), the nonfiction book is actually far less palpable, far less visceral, than the novel. It is therefore a more interesting companion to The Power and the Glory if you're interested in Greene as a writer and want a window into his fiction-writing process. Anyone who is truly interested in finding out more about the true story of Mexico's history would probably do better to pick up a history book. Surely there must be a well-written book that is really focused on Mexico in the early twentieth century that depicts this horrific time.
Speaking of companion reads for The Power and the Glory, try this on for size: before you read Greene's book, pick up Luis Alberto Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter first. Urrea and Greene couldn't be more different as writers go—Urrea is this close to being magical realism—but The Hummingbird's Daughter takes place in Mexico a generation before the action of The Power and the Glory. In Urrea's novel, the government is steadily growing more and more anti-Catholic. Greene's novel picks up about thirty years later, when things have truly descended to their worst level. The two books make an interesting pair.
Numerous additional posts on Graham Greene—most of them more fully baked than this one—can be found here.