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Our Man Down in Havana: The Story Behind Graham Greene's Cold War Spy Novel

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When U.S. immigration authorities deported Graham Greene from Puerto Rico in 1954, the British author made an unplanned visit to Havana and discovered that “every vice was permissible and every trade possible” in a Caribbean fleshpot of mafia-run casinos and nude revues. The former MI6 officer had stumbled upon the ideal setting for a comic espionage story. Three years lat When U.S. immigration authorities deported Graham Greene from Puerto Rico in 1954, the British author made an unplanned visit to Havana and discovered that “every vice was permissible and every trade possible” in a Caribbean fleshpot of mafia-run casinos and nude revues. The former MI6 officer had stumbled upon the ideal setting for a comic espionage story. Three years later, he returned in the midst of Fidel Castro’s guerrilla insurgency against a U.S.-backed dictator to begin writing his iconic novel Our Man in Havana. Twelve weeks after its publication, the Cuban Revolution triumphed in January 1959, soon transforming a capitalist playground into a communist stronghold. Combining biography, history, and politics, Our Man Down in Havana investigates the real story behind Greene’s fictional one. This includes his many visits to a pleasure island that became a revolutionary island, turning his chance involvement into a political commitment. His Cuban novel describes an amateur agent who dupes his intelligence chiefs with invented reports about “concrete platforms and unidentifiable pieces of giant machinery.” With eerie prescience, Greene’s satirical tale had foretold the Cold War’s most perilous episode, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Exploiting a wealth of archival material and interviews with key protagonists, Our Man Down in Havana delves into the story behind and beyond the author’s prophetic Cuban tale, focusing on one slice of Greene’s manic life: a single novel and its complex history.

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When U.S. immigration authorities deported Graham Greene from Puerto Rico in 1954, the British author made an unplanned visit to Havana and discovered that “every vice was permissible and every trade possible” in a Caribbean fleshpot of mafia-run casinos and nude revues. The former MI6 officer had stumbled upon the ideal setting for a comic espionage story. Three years lat When U.S. immigration authorities deported Graham Greene from Puerto Rico in 1954, the British author made an unplanned visit to Havana and discovered that “every vice was permissible and every trade possible” in a Caribbean fleshpot of mafia-run casinos and nude revues. The former MI6 officer had stumbled upon the ideal setting for a comic espionage story. Three years later, he returned in the midst of Fidel Castro’s guerrilla insurgency against a U.S.-backed dictator to begin writing his iconic novel Our Man in Havana. Twelve weeks after its publication, the Cuban Revolution triumphed in January 1959, soon transforming a capitalist playground into a communist stronghold. Combining biography, history, and politics, Our Man Down in Havana investigates the real story behind Greene’s fictional one. This includes his many visits to a pleasure island that became a revolutionary island, turning his chance involvement into a political commitment. His Cuban novel describes an amateur agent who dupes his intelligence chiefs with invented reports about “concrete platforms and unidentifiable pieces of giant machinery.” With eerie prescience, Greene’s satirical tale had foretold the Cold War’s most perilous episode, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Exploiting a wealth of archival material and interviews with key protagonists, Our Man Down in Havana delves into the story behind and beyond the author’s prophetic Cuban tale, focusing on one slice of Greene’s manic life: a single novel and its complex history.

50 review for Our Man Down in Havana: The Story Behind Graham Greene's Cold War Spy Novel

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I have always enjoyed the writing of Graham Greene and several of his books have stayed with me even though I first read them some 40 years ago. Our man in Havana is a different type of novel and like The Third Man has grown beyond the written page due to the subsequent movie releases. This compelling and quite captivating biography of Greene unites the writing of the book and making of the film. It focuses on Greene’s political and governmental roles especially his experience of espionage. It is I have always enjoyed the writing of Graham Greene and several of his books have stayed with me even though I first read them some 40 years ago. Our man in Havana is a different type of novel and like The Third Man has grown beyond the written page due to the subsequent movie releases. This compelling and quite captivating biography of Greene unites the writing of the book and making of the film. It focuses on Greene’s political and governmental roles especially his experience of espionage. It is a story filled with external literary sources so that anyone reading Our man down in Havana will not feel short changed. How Greene came to visit Cuba pre Revolution and perhaps why he continued to visit the island? What is fascinating is that Cuba and Havana is the peg on which this work into Greene’s life can be hung and measured. How he came to meet Castro; why and what motivated him to return. His articles; his association with other writers and poets. His disquiet with US policy as seen in later books. How this book was planned some years before and how chance brought it to Havana. How subsequently it was prophetic in terms of the missile crisis, defections in the secret service and also a foreshadowing of the Iraq invasion and WMD. The writer understands Greene and it is a work well researched and never misses the literary connections. So the prom at Brighton is linked with Havana’s wonderful curved promenade and the two novels further talked about. Beyond all these reasons for reading this book. Here is a work that helps you understand the writing process, how a novel like Our Man in Havana comes to be written and generates a film. For fans of movies and novels these are precious insights but the main topic covered is Graham Greene himself and as stated it provides a critical but warm biography of one of our best authors. It can only promote Greene’s writing and temper our judgement on our heroes. In today’s age of social media we seem to know everything of a modern writer’s life. A glimpse into a former generation shows faults and failings but hopefully an integrity that allows our increased knowledge to be enhancing rather than upsetting. Graham Greene was an imperfect man but in such an open and widely source account such as this we gain far more than just wanting to place such figures on a pedestal. I have found out more about the man but it is the author and his creative writing that I treasure and this book for me cements his reputation and gives one cause to read still more widely.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    Having recently read both Our and Hitler's Man in Havana, this book made a good piece to the trilogy. It examines Graham Greene's writing of his book and contemporary Cuban history - a pretty amazing story.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Peter Caron

    This is a clever and entertaining way to write a biography for, in reality, it is one. In fact, it is two. The subject is Havana, Cuba almost as much as it is Greene. This makes for an interesting and informative perspective of both the author and the city (the country plays only a supporting role to the star, Havana). Tracing the development and transformation of both author and subject, we see Greene in all his perversity and contradiction exposed just as we experience seedy Havana under Batis This is a clever and entertaining way to write a biography for, in reality, it is one. In fact, it is two. The subject is Havana, Cuba almost as much as it is Greene. This makes for an interesting and informative perspective of both the author and the city (the country plays only a supporting role to the star, Havana). Tracing the development and transformation of both author and subject, we see Greene in all his perversity and contradiction exposed just as we experience seedy Havana under Batista and the post revolutionary authoritarianism under Castro. The common thread is the book and movie "Our Man in Havana" though Christopher Hull extends the story as needed in copiously researched, well-written and readable prose. I enjoyed this book almost as much as Greene's classic novel. In fact, armed with what I learned here, I am rereading with new eyes one of the most satirical spy novels of the twentieth century.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I love books about books and I love Graham Greene, so I was excited to find Christopher Hull’s Our Man Down in Havana, the story behind the inspiration and writing of Greene’s spy satire Our Man in Havana. Hull has clearly done his research, and he is obviously well-versed in Cuban history. This, however, was the problem with the book for me: there was just so much information presented that it often got bogged down in tiny details from Greene’s childhood, his years in Britain’s intelligence ser I love books about books and I love Graham Greene, so I was excited to find Christopher Hull’s Our Man Down in Havana, the story behind the inspiration and writing of Greene’s spy satire Our Man in Havana. Hull has clearly done his research, and he is obviously well-versed in Cuban history. This, however, was the problem with the book for me: there was just so much information presented that it often got bogged down in tiny details from Greene’s childhood, his years in Britain’s intelligence service during WWII, the history of Cuba—even what Greene ate on each of his visits to the island. I understand that some of this is necessary for an understanding of how Our Man in Havana reflected Greene’s experiences and the era in which he was writing, but I just thought tighter editing would have made the story clearer and elevated this book to the status of Lesley Blume’s Everybody Behaves Badly, about the writing of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Still, the book was enjoyable for me as a fan of Greene and Our Man in Havana—which I would highly recommend reading before sitting down with this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    The story behind the story, behind the story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  7. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cooper Renner

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    Kenneth Anderson

  10. 5 out of 5

    Margarita Emerson

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    Steve Erickson

  12. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Gusev

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    Cesar

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael Boustead

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    Bernie

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    Vanessa M. Yohe

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    Larry Roberts

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    Stacey

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    Joe

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    Emily

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    Andy

  24. 4 out of 5

    dreamer of art

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    Flaubertian

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    Creolecat

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    Lana

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    Shaunterria

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    Jessica Thomson

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    Park Ridge Public Library

  31. 5 out of 5

    Deven Choi

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    Tom

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    Annie Garvey

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    Sara Leigh

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    Rob Banks

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    Michael Fair

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    Joe

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    Daniel Fell

  50. 4 out of 5

    Beth

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