The power and glory of Graham Greene

I spent the last quarter of the year reading and re-reading works for the 20th Century Narrative Reporting class that I taught at Harvard Extension. I worked in some fiction, but the only novel I read during that period was The Brothers Karamazov, which I had started reading well before the course started. My choice for a novel to read after the class was done approached irony: The Power and The Glory, a Graham Greene novel about a priest in Mexico on the lam from the socialist political power that wanted to suppress the Catholic church. The irony in it is that the novel came out of a reporting trip, from which Greene first wrote a non-fiction journalistic book, The Lawless Roads.

The Power and the Glory gives us a powerful look at human motivation, altruism and inconstancy. It also captures the clash between state and church. It draws on Greene’s experience as a journalist covering Tabasco, Mexico in 1938, when socialist revolutionaries in Tabasco largely succeeded in suppressing the Catholic church. Greene’s own ambivalence towards religion is captured in the whisky priest, who real love is his child, born out of a drunken moment. Yet this priest’s goodness, his holiness, comes out of his flaws, as Greene captures nicely. The book offers a similar theme to Karamazov, where evil and good exist in people and for most of us creates constant psychic struggle.

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