The Comedians - Graham Greene (1966)

There are some books that make you despair for humanity while at the same time giving you a spark of hope. The Comedians is one such book. Set in the hideous darkness of Haiti under Papa Doc Duvalier, the action of the book concerns the fate of three men - Smith, Jones and the narrator, Brown. Brown is adrift and rootless, an observer rather than an actor; Smith is a vegetarian and a believer in the essential goodness of humanity, who is defeated by Haiti and moves on to the neighboring Dominican Republic; Jones is a con-man who tries to wrestle Haiti on its own terms and ultimately becomes more absorbed by Haiti in his short time there than Brown who has lived there for years.

By having Smith and Jones arrive from, respectively, North America and Europe, Greene is able to have Brown and other characters provide explanations for them of the situation in Haiti and to meditate on the state of politics in small counties - especially poor ones who are at the mercy of big ones, where they are treated as pawns in political machinations. Several pointed references are made to US political policy with regard to Haiti and the corruption attendant on it.

Smith, who had come to found a vegetarian center and help the people, is confronted with corruption, murder by the Tontons Macoute and such appalling chaos that even his optimism cracks and he and his wife depart.

Jones, a rogue, who always seems to land on his feet, is arrested soon after his arrival, then becomes and honoured guest as he tries to run a big con, then becomes a refugee in an embassy after his game is discovered, and finally joins a pathetic insurgency in the hills.

Brown watches it all, and becomes involved only when he must.

The black horror is offset by the shining hope represented by Jones' attempt at redemption and Smith's continual striving for betterment of the human state. Even as the terrible events unfold around the characters, there is a dim flame lighting the darkness. This is a good book, a moving book, by an author of proven talent and power.

Overall Grade: A-

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