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The Comedians by Graham Greene
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The Comedians (1966)

by Graham Greene

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This suspenseful comedic novel begins on a cargo ship en route from Philadelphia to Port-au-Prince in the early 1960s, during the early years of the murderous reign of the Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier: Brown, who runs a luxury hotel for foreigners that he inherited from his mother; Smith, a minor candidate for the US Presidency in 1948 who ran on an anti-war, pro-vegetarian platform, who is accompanied by his equally naïve and bombastic wife; and Jones, another Briton, who claims that he is a distinguished army major but seems to be full of hot air and completely untrustworthy. All are aware of the terror that Duvalier has inflicted on his opponents and innocent civilians with the help of the Tontons Macoute, his sadistic paramilitary force, yet each of them are unconcerned for their own safety as white foreigners. Brown is drawn back to his hotel and, more importantly, to the woman he desires, if not loves; Smith and his wife seek an audience with a government minister to discuss the creation of a vegetarian center in the capital; and Jones plans a secretive deal that promises to provide him with enough money to create a Caribbean golf resort.

Upon his return to the hotel Brown makes a surprising discovery, which he manages to hide from the Smiths, who accept his offer to be his guests. The four become entrenched in the violence and their lives are clearly in danger, yet they are largely oblivious to the threat in the beginning. Brown and Jones independently and repeatedly encounter the Tontons Macoute and one of its captains, along with a corrupt government minister and a trusted local physician. Jones gets into deep trouble, and somehow manages to enlist Brown's help in a risky plan that seems destined to result in failure and their deaths.

The Comedians was mildly entertaining, but it was ultimately a disappointing read given my high expectations for it. The Haitian people, government and paramilitary officers were largely portrayed as exotic buffoons, with little to distinguish them from people from other countries in Africa or the Caribbean, and the sense of imminent danger that the characters were often faced with did not ring anywhere near as true as it did in [The Feast of the Goat], Mario Vargas Llosa's much better novel set during the last days of Rafael Trujillo's regime in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Those interested in learning more about life in Haiti during the Duvalier regime would be much better off reading the works of writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Lyonel Trouillot and Dany Laferrière instead. ( )
1 vote kidzdoc | Feb 25, 2014 |
For Greene, this was epically long- nearly 300 pages? The heck? Unwonted length aside, though, it's standard Greene: foreign country, political machinations, darkness, weirdly sex-obsessed leading man and his illicit, tortured relationship with a married woman, naive Americans, cynical Englishmen and so forth.

It's also, sadly, slightly substandard Greene as far as structure. It's very flabby- there are, in effect, three storylines, which only interact insofar as the characters involved happen to know each other. There's no need at all for the naive American storyline (will Mr & Mrs Smith be able to set up a vegetarian center in Haiti?), which takes up a good fifth of the book; there's very little need for the narrator's back-story (how *did* he come to own a hotel in Haiti?), and the weight given to them early on detracts from the main event, Mr Jones' development from jail-bird to 'hero.' On the upside, it's nice to see the naive American's naivety as a source of strength and not just weakness, and the Englishman's cynicism may well be defeated by Dr. Magiot, who flits through the book only to have the final say. Without the Smith-vegetarian and Brown-family & lurv plot lines, this would have been excellent. As is, it's too flabby to recommend over Greene's masterpieces. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
To increase your enjoyment and appreciation of this book, read [Seeds of Fiction] by [Bernard Diederich] first.

Haiti is a difficult world to explain to ordinary folk. It is difficult, first of all, to explain that the Haitian people can be so wonderful yet be oppressed by such terrible dictators time and again. Is it the fault of America, as Greene suggests? It certainly is true that America saw so many communist bogey men in the bushes it failed to recognize to TonTon Macoutes as being more detrimental to the health and well-being of the "tired and poor, yearning to be free" than any Castro. And WAS Papa Doc that bad? No, he was worse even than that.

Are there men and women alive today that see to the heart of goodness, as the Smiths did? It certainly is difficult to juxtapose the two: Smith and Duvalier. The absolute is difficult to swallow, yet there do exist absolutely good people. As there also exists absolutely evil ones. This book is peopled with both of them, yet one cannot/should not forget that it is also peopled with the rank and file, the company troupe, as it were, of actors, who learn their lines and continue to repeat them, never learning from a new script. The comedians. ( )
  kaulsu | May 3, 2013 |
Rereading a number of Greene novels has made me more aware of some of the constants in his work: cruelty both political and personal, the complexity of innocence, the tangle of emotions and relationships Greene always associates with love. Maybe not his best novel but well worth reading. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
סיפורה הנורא של טהיטי תחת פפה דוק דובליה. הטוב בספ​ ( )
  amoskovacs | Feb 5, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
First published nearly 40 years ago, Greene's novel about a world-weary hotelier in the darkest days of the Duvalier dictatorship was inevitably banned in the country. It would be comforting to read it now as a historical record of a different era but sadly the night in Haiti has deepened further and if Greene were to return he would find no shortage of the corruption and violence that acted as a backdrop to The Comedians.

 
Most of all, God is a failure. God is like the British army: He loses almost every battle, and only at the end, if repentance comes in time, may He win the war. For most of the time, Evil wins, turning good intentions to bad ends and bringing all to ruin. I think we should remember that the God who created Greeneland has been more than seven days in doing it, and has not yet rested. He is Mr. Greene himself. And if the land itself might be a miserable enough place in which to live, the God who creates it does so with so much liveliness and skill, and with such a will and ability to please and carry us along, that for those of us who are merely tourists and not the doomed inhabitants it is an exciting land to visit.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, John Bowden (Jul 12, 1966)
 
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Epigraph
"...aspects are within us, and who seems
Most kingly is the King."
--Thomas Hardy
Dedication
First words
When I think of all the grey memorials erected in London to equestrian generals, the heroes of old colonial wars, and to frock-coated politicians who are even more deeply forgotten, I can find no reason to mock the modest stone that commemorates Jones on the far side of the international road which he failed to cross in a country far from home, though I am not to this day absolutely sure of where, geographically speaking, Jones's home lay.
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'Only the nightmares are real in this place.'
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143039199, Paperback)

One of Graham Greene's most chilling and prophetic novels, The Comedians is set in a Haiti ruled by Papa Doc and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Just as The Quiet American offered a preview of the coming horrors of American involvement in Vietnam, this novel presages the chaos in Haiti. Classic Graham Greene.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:17:37 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Three men, Brown, Smith, and Jones, meet on a ship bound for Haiti, where "Papa Doc" and the Tontons Macoute rule, with sinister secret police."

» see all 3 descriptions

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