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Our Man in Havana (1958)

by Graham Greene

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,3431381,979 (3.88)335
Classic Literature. Fiction. Our Man in Havana, set in Cuba under the Batista regime, was published in 1958 - one year before Castro's revolution in 1959. This comedy thriller focuses on Havana-based vacuum cleaner salesman James Wormold, an Englishman. The story revolves around Wormold's reluctant role in the British Secret Service as 'Our Man in Havana', a post he accepts to fund the spendthrift habits of his beloved daughter. According to some conspiracy theorists, the novel presaged the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which many people feared could have led to World Ware Three.… (more)
  1. 31
    The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré (chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: Le Carré's 1996 novel was inspired by Greene's "Our Man in Havana".
  2. 20
    Death and the Penguin by Andrij Kurkow (alalba)
    alalba: In both books the main character makes up stories as a way of keeping his job, in both cases, they become reality.
  3. 10
    The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell (terrazoon)
    terrazoon: Good satires are hard to find. Although the subject matter is different, if you like one you will probably like the other.
  4. 00
    The Fat Plan by Glen Neath (sanddancer)
  5. 01
    The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (LamontCranston)
  6. 01
    My Life In CIA: A Chronicle of 1973 by Harry Mathews (slickdpdx)

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» See also 335 mentions

English (119)  Spanish (6)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Swedish (2)  German (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hebrew (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (137)
Showing 1-5 of 119 (next | show all)
Cuba in 1950's. Place of great beauty but in very bad political situation - oppressive regime hunting down suspects in a rather savage way because they seek to exterminate the rebels, and various nefarious characters walking around - chief of police (aka Red Vulture) known for having his cigarette case made of flayed human skin, various foreigners from Trade Association with murky pasts and agendas and finally rebels preparing for the coup-d'etat.

And in the middle of it we find Wormold, British citizen, representative of the vacuum cleaner producer trying to live off his work and make sure his daughter gets the best education possible (you gotta love his despair when he tries to figure out how to sell vacuum cleaners with unpopular name for local populace). So when he gets recruited by representative of British Secret Service (because Cuba slowly becomes a rather interesting (in negative way of course) place on the map) he decides to do what is best for him and his daughter. And so adventure begins.

Similar to the "The Quiet American" Graham Greene portrays a world on the brink of capital change where by the looks of it everything will go down rather quickly. As far as I can see author was very well informed about the political situations in the parts of the world he wrote about.

Wormold is shown as a rather capable man (way he manages to create the reports for his shadowy masters and the way he ultimately played the entire spy organizations is equally amazing and ridiculous - general bureaucracy notwithstanding) but working a dull job. So when he starts to get involved in the activities that start to threaten his own life (excellent discussion with his boss who just off-handedly mentions plot to kill Wormold or stoically soaking up threats from the local police chief) it is obvious he enjoys the kick. He blunders through the plots and plans of his own and opposing team and manages to keep appearances of a man who knows what he is doing (which is hilarious) - for all means and purposes Wormold shows how amateurish and bureaucratic can intelligence agencies sometimes be. Similar to today's modern media they seek news that are bombastic in order to justify their existence during what you might call lean-years with no crises. So when they come across the person that starts giving them such news they are ready to make it look right no matter what. If opposition is showing interest in shutting down these news then it proves all is true (I love this logic). So when people start dying all around our hero, Wormold, we witness him being patted and congratulated for work well done - these comical situations and blunders and misunderstandings between the so-called professionals and Wormold permeate the entire novel.

Excellent book and written in much lighter way than Le Carre's "The Tailor from Panama". It is more than obvious Greene's book was inspiration for Le Carre but (according to the times and political climate) Le Carre's book is somewhat darker story.

Recommended to fans of thriller and espionage intrigue. ( )
  Zare | Jan 23, 2024 |
my first Graham Greene. Fabulous writing, wit a plenty but too cynical for me, especially the last paragraph. ( )
  monicaberger | Jan 22, 2024 |
This did not read as funny to me as perhaps Greene intended (the Wormold character is a bit too on the nose), but I appreciated its contemptuous and jaundiced take on British espionage. ( )
  jklugman | Nov 29, 2023 |
At last! A Graham Greene novel that I enjoyed. Not that I thought Brighton Rock and The Heart Of The Matter are not good (they may well be "better" than this one) just that I found it difficult to engage with them. This was a lot of fun, with great characters, and a larger than life setting - with the benefit of history making it a particularly intriguing setting. Entertaining, morally complex, and funny. A blackly comedic romp. ( )
  thisisstephenbetts | Nov 25, 2023 |
I read this many years ago, so I don't remember much of it, only that I really enjoyed it and laughed a lot. Thanks to Woods Pierce for the gift.

2nd reading review: 1 December 2021
A highly humorous, farcical tale of the cold war, spy game in pre-Castro Cuba. Even though I'm laughing out loud throughout the novel, there's this dark undercurrent in the back of my mind whispering, "This could very well happen". Greene should know, having worked for MI6 during WWII.
I don't trust government agencies as far as I can throw them. Add to that the individual human element, and you get an institution that is totally inept, corrupted, sometimes laughable, and most likely, harmful to the regular, everyday folks who are just trying to pay the rent and enjoy as much of life as they can. Greene delivers an adventure of the ill-equipped spy in a world gone mad. ( )
  MickeyMole | Oct 2, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 119 (next | show all)
10 of the Greatest Cold War Spy Novels
“Possibly the greatest writer of prose to devote so much of his time to the theme of espionage, Greene was himself briefly an intelligence agent. His WW 2 experiences in London, dealing with a disinformation-dealing agent in Portugal, provided the impetus for this satirical and prescient look at the spy game. Wormhold, a British vacuum salesman in Havana during the Batista regime, becomes a spy for the MI6 to better provide for his daughter (he’s a single parent). The reports Wormhold concocts involve imaginary agents, whose salaries he collects. But his lively reports begin to greatly interest London, who send in reinforcements, initiating a deadly black comedy of errors, making the hapless agent a Soviet target. In an instance of perfect casting, Alec Guinness portrayed Wormhold in the 1959 film version.”
Toward the end, as we go into a business luncheon at which Wormold is due to die, things begin to warm, and it seems we will get what we came for. But when, for a climax, a dog wanders into the dining room, laps the whisky Wormold spilled, dies, and thus gives warning of poison, things simply fall apart. I never saw a dog drink hard liquor, and don't believe this one did. However, I do believe he could read, and had had a look at the script, to know what he should do. All in all, little as a Greene fan likes to say it, this book misses, and in a thoroughly heartbreaking way, for it misses needlessly where it might have rung the bell.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, James M. Cain (Jul 12, 2011)
For once, Greene's Roman Catholic hang-ups, which make novels such as The End of the Affair so desolate, are kept in check - even joked about. "Hail Mary, quite contrary", prays convent-educated Milly, aged four. Nine years later she sets fire to a small American boy called Thomas Earl Parkman Junior because he's a Protestant - "and if there was going to be a persecution, Catholics could always beat Protestants at that game."

» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Graham Greeneprimary authorall editionscalculated
Grandfield, GeoffIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hitchens, ChristopherPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hogarth, PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaiser, DietlindTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lundblad, JaneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magnus, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Northam, JeremyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oddera, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schaap, H.W.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turtiainen, ArvoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallverdú, JosepTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winiewicz, LidaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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And the sad man is cock of all his jests
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'That nigger going down the street,' said Dr Hasselbacher standing in the Wonder Bar, 'he reminds me of you, Mr Wormold.'
The separating years approached them both, like a station down the line, all gain for her and all loss for him.
You should dream more, Mr. Wormold. Reality in our century is not something to be faced.
He was aware whenever he entered the shop of a vacuum that had nothing to do with his cleaners.
In a mad world it always seemed simpler to obey.
As long as nothing happens, anything is possible, you agree? It is a pity that a lottery is ever drawn. I lose a hundred and forty thousand dollars a week, and I am a poor man.
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Classic Literature. Fiction. Our Man in Havana, set in Cuba under the Batista regime, was published in 1958 - one year before Castro's revolution in 1959. This comedy thriller focuses on Havana-based vacuum cleaner salesman James Wormold, an Englishman. The story revolves around Wormold's reluctant role in the British Secret Service as 'Our Man in Havana', a post he accepts to fund the spendthrift habits of his beloved daughter. According to some conspiracy theorists, the novel presaged the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which many people feared could have led to World Ware Three.

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