[With the exception of Brighton Rock] I’ve never read a book by Graham Greene I didn’t consider worth tucking away for at least one future reading. I encountered The Heart of the Matter too late in life to feel any confidence I’ll live long enough to enjoy this one again, but that’s the result of the aging process, not the book. It will be there with the others still waiting if I kick before I get around to it again.
Set in an imaginary West African British colony early during WWII, The Heart of the Matter is vaguely reminiscent of Maugham’s Ashenden series in some ways, Of Human Bondage, in others, with a touch of Heart of Darkness thrown in for seasoning. Scobie, the aging, passed-over-for-promotion Deputy Commissioner of Police, is the primary character and the only European character in the book who loves Africa and wants nothing more than to remain there his entire life.
However, his wife, Louise, hates it, bludgeons him with his lack of upward mobility, harnesses his kindness and determination to avoid causing her pain even though there’s no love left between them, and tortures him with guilt. She frequently declares tearfully he doesn’t love her and draws his assurances, “Of course I love you.”
The native population loves his unique respect and fairness in the execution of his duties whenever the individuals are not involved in crime. When they are involved they despise him for identical reasons. The Indian and Syrian merchants and Neutral Nation Shipping and Smuggling concerns mostly just would rather he could be bribed or tricked into seeming to be vulnerable to bribes.
Through this tightening stricture of War, Colonial idiosyncracies, needy personal relationships, and intrigue Greene threads Scobie’s strait-jacketed life along a complex and interesting plot worthy of far more well-known and durable writers.
I’d suggest readers who’ve only been exposed to Brighton Rock might find themselves surprised to discover in The Heart of the Matter that Greene is a writer they want more of. Same as so many other of Greene’s works.
Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Reading, Writing, WW II
Tagged Book reviews, Books, graham greene, History, literature, miscellaneous, Reading, society, the heart of the matter, thoughts, writing
The father of a man I used to know had been a Hungarian tank commander on the Eastern front during WWII. (He bore a striking resemblance to an aging Robert Shaw in his role as a German tank commander in Battle of the Bulge). He was there for the Axis invasion of the USSR, all the way to the suburbs of Moscow.
He was captured by the Soviets early in the war before they began shooting their officer prisoners, then exchanged and sent back to Hungary to recuperate. But later as the casualties mounted and the Eastern Front meat grinder demanded more meat, he was sent back.
One of the battles late in the war provided him a ticket to a German Hospital facility and an injury sufficient to keep him there until the surrender. Surrender, by incredible luck, he vowed, to US forces. He was held in a camp while prisoners from USSR-held countries were sent back for mass executions. His membership in the NAZI party in Hungary would have made his demise a certainty.
Disguised as a woman, this man escaped the camp and journeyed to South America. That’s where my amigo was born. Afterward the family moved to Canada. I became friends with his son during the ’70s at the University of Texas where he was several years ‘all-but-dissertation’ for his PHD in Linguistics. His father’s status as a ‘wanted’ war criminal in Hungary remained in force throughout the old man’s entire life.
I asked him once about the Eastern Front experience, knowing he was unrepentant. I’d been carrying a nagging curiosity about it for years.
“Those were heady times,” he smiled, “Kind of fun, actually. Going up against infantry and squadrons of Soviet cavalry in an armored vehicle. Sometimes you might kill a hundred men before breakfast.“
He stopped and pondered a moment.
“Then they got the T-34. That took a lot of the fun out of it.”
I guess it did. The other side never really appreciated how much fun it was, though.
Panzerlied (Battle of the Bulge with english intro)
Posted in 1940's, Human Behavior, WW II
Tagged country life, culture, Eastern Front, Education, History, Human Behavior, Life, lifestyle, misc, miscellaneous, musings, personal, Reflections, Relationships, Russian Front, senior citizens, T34, thoughts, wisdom, WWII