Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Power and the Glory

June 5, 2012
Book of the Day: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Grade: A+
First published: 1940
1-word review: Oppression
8-word review: Man is either broken or he breaks himself.

In the southern Mexico of the early twentieth century, priests have become all but extinct due to the zealous efforts of an anti-clerical, authoritarian government (in this case, personified in a nameless police lieutenant), who have forced them to either renounce the faith and marry, or be put to death. In the midst of this hell, one unnamed priest holds out and does his best to evade the authorities and, despite himself, continue in his duties. But this man is wracked by guilt and far from holy. He drinks, earning him the appellation of "whisky priest," and he has fathered a child. He seems to believe that he is damned no matter what he does, but, ironically, he struggles throughout the story to find some sort of redemption. It is up to the reader to pass judgment as to the ultimate worth of this man's soul.

In a heartbreaking side story, Padre Jose, a priest defrocked and forced to marry, is ridiculed by his former parishioners and subjugated by his wife. Children gather around his porch at night to mimic his wife's calls for him to come to bed. He loathes himself, but he fears the state too much to defy it, to show courage.

Greene was inspired to write this novel after a visit to Mexico in the late '30's. In the state of Tabasco, its governor had established a paramilitary force called the "Red Shirts" to harass Catholics and terrorize the clergy. Religion was effectively banned in the state.

Tomas Garrido Canabal, the anti-clerical governor of Tabasco
Don't be fooled by his silly outfit. He wasn't very nice.

I am in awe of this novel. It has remained my favorite since I first read it almost six years ago. Greene's mastery of words is always noteworthy, but his language is remarkable here, with nary a word too many or too few. Greene was a prolific author, and many of his other novels rank among my favorites (e.g, The Quiet American, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, The Comedians). Read him.

Graham Greene (1904-1991)

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