Monday, June 16, 2008

The Honorary Consul- novel by Graham Greene

The reason why Graham Greene is coming into this blog, rather than in my other blog " Floating Weed" is because this novel, "Honorary Consul" is about Latin America. I reread this novel with greater interest and curiosity last week since the location of the story is Argentina and Paraguay. I wanted to experience these countries through the eyes, ears and senses of Graham Greene, who has also spent time here.

The main character is Charley Fortnum the honorary consul of Britain in Paraguay. Although he is of British origin, his character has been tropicalised as a Latino. He imports cars dutyfree every two years and sells in the local market, although he is not entitled as a honorary consul. He is a bachelor in his sixties and floats on scotch whisky to get over his loneliness. One day the sixty year- old Charley falls in love with a twenty one year- old Clara, the girl from the puteria of senora sanchez. After this, his main obsession is to keep her happy and is thrilled when she becomes pregnant. Clara, while enjoying the unexpected affection of Charley, has an affair with her husband´s friend Doctor Eduardo Plarr,also of English origin. Eduardo´s father, a revolutionary, is jailed by the Paraguayan dictator and is killed while trying to escape from the prison.

Eduardo helps the guerillas to kidnap the American ambassador to Argentina while visiting Paraguay. But the amateurish guerillas bungle it and kidnap Charley by mistake. The guerillas do not want to give up even after discovering their mistake. They ask for the release of political prisoners in exchange for freeing Charley. But the British govenrment does not care for the life of an alcoholic and unscrupulous honorary consul. The revolutionary guerillas prefer to die rather than surrender. The Paraguayan police discover the hiding place of the kidnappers and kill them including Eduardo and free Charley.

The novel has got everything of the south america of the sixties and seventies; repressive military dictatorship, corrupt and decadent governments, guerilla war by revolutionaries of the Cuban vintage, role of United States in those days in the region, the vestiges of British presence in the region, catholic bishops turning into leftist radicals, poets living out lives of magical realism and the puterias, the refuge of the machos and poets.

The novel gives a glimpse of the conditions of the society caught between the traumas of the violent conflict between the dictatorship and leftists. Greene has captured the Porteno spirit of the elegant city of Buenos Aires, gossips and leisurely conversations in its cafes and shopping in Florida street. Eduardo´s mother tries to sink the depression caused by the disappearance of her husband by consuming packs and packs of Alfajores, the typical Argentine chocolate candies in Cafe Richmond in Florida street.

The kidnapping takes place in the Corrientes province of Argentina bordering paraguay, separated by Parana river. Greene has portrayed the situation in Paraguay, one of the most backward countries of south america, which has started changing only now. The story of the catholic priest Father Rivas, a product of "liberation theology" who leaves the church to become a revolutionary, has come true now. The catholic priest- turned leftist political leader Father Fernando Lugo has just been elected to become the President of Paraguay in August 2008. Lugo wears only sandals and leads an austere life, as part of his solidarity with the poor.

Greene has vividly brought out the Latino characteristics of Clara, the doctor and the honorary consul, with their ambiguous and tentative approach to relationships. Clara is a typical young and naive puta who adjusts herself smoothly and professionally to please her clients with absolute emotional detachment. The novelist Saavedra leads a bohemian life in a latino setting along with the revolutionary poet Aquino. With all these typical latino characters, Greene has been able to caputre the latino spirit and their way of interpretation of love and lust, hope and betrayal, illusions and dreams, in those times of dictatorship and ideologies. Greene has explored the theme of love through the characters of his novel. Dr Plarr thinks cynically that love is nothing but a bargain used by those offering love to demand reciprocal afection or obligation. For Charley, love blossoms when he meets Clara and wants to give so much without expecting any return. Father Rivas´s indian wife sees love as devotion to him despite his ambiguous approach to her.

Graham Greene had lived in Buenos Aires for sometime and that is how he had absorbed the comedies and tragedies of the Argentine society. He had stayed at Lancaster hotel in Cordoba avenue.

Greene has dedicated this novel to Victoria Ocampo and in memory of the many happy weeks he had passed at San Isidro and Mar del Plata. Victoria had hosted Rabindranath Tagore for two months in her houses in the same two cities.