Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Re-reading The Power and the Glory

Yet another book that I was sure I had read, but as it turned out didn’t remember a word of. I think I remember the cover of the paperback I borrowed from a friend of my mother, but I could not find it on the web. Could it be that I started reading it, age 16, and gave up? There isn’t much of interest in the novel for a sixteen-year-old without any religious background. Extremely dense text, no action, scarce dialogue, no romance, alien setting, totally incomprehensible historical circumstances. Of Greene’s novels, two were translated and published in Russia in the 1960s, Our Man in Havana and The Quiet American, apparently because they depicted “the decay of capitalism”, which was the standard wording in Russian literary criticism of the time. The Power and the Glory could not be translated because of its theme. Religion was banned in Russia, and priests had been persecuted and shot, just as in Greene’s novel, but the author’s sympathy is not on Red Shirts’ side, and even a skilful foreword writer wouldn’t be able to explain it to the Soviet reader. 

I didn’t know anything about Mexico’s history then, as it wasn’t part of our history curriculum, and I must admit that I had to look it up now as well. Parallels to Soviet history are striking. But there is, as far as I know, no Russian novel portraying a persecuted Russian priest, at least not in the same poignant way. Greene’s protagonist is not a helpless and innocent victim; he is not particularly likable, and yet I kept falling into the unforgivable reader fallacy of yelling at him: Don’t do this, can’t you see it’s a trap? Which I think is the intention.

The Power and the Glory is perhaps the strongest impression of my 2020 re-reading challenge. Several books proved better on re-reading, but this is superior by far. I will read it again in a couple of years or maybe even sooner.

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