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The Comedians

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Three men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, a world in the grip of the corrupt “Papa Doc” and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Brown the hotelier, Smith the innocent American, and Jones the confidence man—these are the “comedians” of Greene’s title. Hiding behind their actors’ masks, they hesitate on the edge of life. They are men afraid of love, afraid of pain, afraid of fear itself...

292 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1966

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About the author

Graham Greene

681 books4,985 followers
Particularly known novels, such as The Power and the Glory (1940), of British writer Henry Graham Greene reflect his ardent Catholic beliefs.

The Order of Merit and the Companions of Honour inducted this English novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenplay writer, travel writer, and critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity.

Greene objected strongly to description as a “Catholic novelist” despite Catholic religious themes at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock , The Heart of the Matter , The End of the Affair , and The Power and the Glory . Other works, such as The Quiet American , Our Man in Havana , and The Human Factor , also show an avid interest in the workings of international politics and espionage.

(Adapted from Wikipedia)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 726 reviews
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,084 reviews7,001 followers
March 22, 2017
Our main character is a world weary drifter. The novel starts with him returning to Haiti on a cargo ship with just a handful of passengers. There are so few Europeans in Haiti that all these passengers and some of the crew enter the story again. Disengaged from his courtesan mother and even unsure what his last name really is, he has worked in European restaurants and sold forged low-end paintings. His mother dies and leaves him a hotel/cabaret in Port-au-Prince. He attempts to run the hotel and has an affair with a South American ambassador’s wife who is obsessed with her child. He ruins the affair with his jealousy.


The real story is the brutality of the Haitian dictatorship. Despite the blatant brutality of their regimes, the US supported the Haitian dictators “Papa Doc” Duvalier from 1957-1971, and his son, “Baby Doc,” until 1986, because they were anti-communist. This was the time after Castro’s takeover of Cuba.

Key figures in the story are the Tontons Macoute, perhaps the original “Men in Black.” They are the ‘police’ who run the country; basically terrorist authorized to kill, rape, torture and steal. The drive around in US military style jeeps and they all wear cheap sunglasses. They are the KGB and the SAVAK of Haiti. (I have known folks from the Caribbean who are visibly upset when the term “Tontons” is mentioned.) More people die in this book than in a typical Friday the 13th horror movie.


Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The phones don’t work; electricity is intermittent; no one travels at night for fear of the Tontons; the capital city is a shantytown; school kids are rounded up to watch executions in the park. The country is thoroughly corrupt. (The book was published in 1965. I found it in a used bookstore and in the back was a clipping of a NYT article from 1982 about how half the food aid being sent to Haiti was stolen and diverted into the black market. I thought, ‘Only half?’)

A very naïve couple from the US, promoters of vegetarianism, serve as foils for the events. The husband is always referred to as “the Presidential candidate” because he ran against Truman and got a few votes as one of those numerous also-rans. So we have the black humor of conversations about goings-on in Haiti which begin literally as soon as the main character arrives back at his hotel and within minutes finds the body of a government minister in his pool.

“They can’t make it out to be anything but suicide,” I said. “They can make it out to be whatever suits them.”

“Has he seen a lawyer?” “That’s not possible here. The police wouldn’t allow it.”

“A witness here can suffer just as much as the accused.”

“What is the charge?” “There won’t necessarily be a charge.”

“The minister said he was a Haitian and he could do what he liked with a Haitian.”

“The police may exceed their instructions.”

If someone is silly enough to ask about things such as ‘bail’ or a ‘warrant,’ the police laugh and pretend not to understand. (Or genuinely do not understand.)

The main theme of this novel, from which the title derives, is this: a few people have a purpose in life. They are dedicated to a cause, committed to some purpose; they have dedication, courage and integrity. They might be Catholics or communists or, like the husband-wife team in the story, even vegetarians. But they have something. The rest are comedians. The main character admits to being a comedian. In early conversation on the ship one of the other characters speaks of the same idea, calling the people with purpose tofts, and the comedians, tarts. Here’s a great quote from a priest at a funeral; he’s obviously not a comedian (spoken in the Dominican Republic; he would not dare say this in Haiti):

“…our hearts go out in sympathy to all who are moved to violence by the suffering of others. The Church condemns violence, but it condemns indifference more harshly. Violence can be the expression of love, indifference never. One is an imperfection of charity, the other the perfection of egoism.”

This is Graham Greene, so obviously we expect and we get excellent writing. A few examples:

“He was only half way through his own story and he had no audience left: he resembled a sea-lion who has dropped his fish.”

“He knew as many intimate things as a prostitute’s dog.”

“’There’s a rendezvous I have to keep,’ I told her without knowing that I spoke the truth.”

“…his teeth were very big and white and separate, like tombstones designed for a much larger cemetery. A curious smell crossed his desk as though one grave had stayed open.”

Talking about religion:
“I remember now. I used to think you were nothing.”
“I am nothing.”
“Yes, but a Protestant nothing, not a Catholic nothing. I am a Protestant nothing.”


Other novels I have read about Haiti all portray the same tragic story such as The Kingdom of This World and Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy. The Feast of the Goat is about the kindred spirit of the brutal dictator Trujillo around the same time as the Docs in neighboring Dominican Republic, with which Haiti shares its island.

Photos, top to bottom, from andygallacher.com; forargyll.com; hardrainproject.com
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,393 followers
October 13, 2019
In need of respite from a run of poorly-written modern novels that were blinged up to the eyeballs with hype, I sought refuge in a Graham Greene one, knowing that elegant prose and grammatical excellence awaited me.
Our narrator, Mr Brown, is a burnt-out international wheeler-dealer who returns to Haiti by ship, having inherited a hotel there. On the voyage over, Mr Brown buddies up with (wait for it) a Mr Smith and a Mr Jones.

Haiti has fallen under the tyrannical rule of "Papa Doc" and his secret police. And it is against this backdrop that we witness (amongst other things) a dead body floating in a swimming pool, a knee-trembler in a cramped car, corruption, rebellion and civil unrest. Brown (possibly a facsimile of Greene himself) is rootless, cynical and non-commital in love; a man who prefers to 'go it alone'.
I binge-read Graham Greene's books as a teenager and, until this one, hadn't returned since. For the life of me, I can’t think why - the man’s prose is as slick as a buttered eel.

TRIGGER WARNING: regrettably, the word "golliwog" is used once in the narrative. The only mitigation I can offer is that the book was written fifty-three years ago, so make of it what you will.

I didn't write it, so please don't shoot the messenger. : (

By all accounts, Graham Greene was an irascible, quarrelsome fellow given to condescension (I'd have locked horns with the truculent old bugger) but there is no doubt that he was a stylish writer.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,423 reviews3,374 followers
May 24, 2021
When people’s favourites come to power, they quite soon turn into sinister dictators… And all those who disagree with their unique role are just comedians that must exit stage and disappear…
The ambassador said, ‘Come on, cheer up, let us all be comedians together. Take one of my cigars. Help yourself at the bar. My Scotch is good. Perhaps even Papa Doc is a comedian.’
‘Oh no,’ Philipot said, ‘he is real. Horror is always real.’
The ambassador said, ‘We mustn’t complain too much of being comedians – it’s an honourable profession. If only we could be good ones the world might gain at least a sense of style. We have failed – that’s all. We are bad comedians, we aren’t bad men.’

Every democracy is democratic in its own way; all tyrannies are similarly horrendous… I hope Count Leo Tolstoy will turn in his grave.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,149 reviews1,683 followers
April 21, 2022

Uno dei miei romanzi preferiti di Greene.
Più che per la trama in sé, perché il mio scrittore inglese amato sembra alleggerire il peso della croce cattolica che si porta da qualche parte, sul cuore, o sulle spalle, non so.
Sembra invece farsi più politico, più tagliente, più mordace.
E crea una magnifica atmosfera in una Haiti terrorizzante, e terrorizzata dai Tontons Macoute, la polizia “segreta” di “Papa Doc” Duvalier, il dittatore nero dell’isola nera, a poche onde di distanza dalla minacciosa Cuba comunista, e per questo “ultimo baluardo contro il comunismo”, come il turpe stregone fascista ama definirsi per compiacere il suo sponsor più importante, il governo degli US.

Liz Taylor/Martha è sposata con Peter Ustinov, ambasciatore tedesco.

Greene conosceva bene l’isola, e conosceva bene Duvalier e le sue feroci squadracce di torturatori.
E regala un altro di quei magici viaggi a cavallo tra tropici, esotismo, politica, thriller, avventura, storia d’amore fallito.
A proposito di quest’ultima, devo dire che il romanzo è avaro, suggerisce più che mettere in scena: Brown, il narratore, vive nella sua mente il rimpianto d’amore per la donna che ha lasciato sull’isola, Martha, e che vorrebbe ritrovare. Ultima occasione d’amore.
Ma lei è sposata a un ambasciatore (tedesco nel film, uruguayano nel romanzo) e flirta con un mercenario e trafficante di armi, il maggiore Brown.

Solo che nel film (1967) sceneggiato dallo stesso scrittore, film non eccezionale, ma interpretato da una coppia magica provvista di sguardi che hanno fatto la storia del cinema, Richard Burton ed Elizabeth Taylor, all’epoca impegnati nel loro primo tumultuoso matrimonio, che insieme al secondo ci ha tenuti inchiodati alle paginacce dei rotocalchi, che all’epoca anticipavano i social e le chiacchiere da bar oggi sfornate da quell’editore internazionale chiamato internet, il non eccezionale film, grazie alla magia elettrica di questa coppia, trasforma la donna da pensiero e ricordo più che personaggio (Brown la pensa e rimpiange molto, ma la incrocia poco) in protagonista in carne e ossa – meravigliosa carne, e probabilmente altrettanto meravigliose ossa.

Come se non bastasse un marito, un altro uomo che spasima per lei (Burton/Brown), Liz/Martha ha tentazioni per l’avventuriero Alec Guinness/Jones.

Mentre ad Haiti incombe la notte imposta dalla dittatura di gente dalla pelle nera su gente dalla pelle nera afflitta da miseria nera, resa più che inquietante letteralmente terrorizzante dai torturatori che portano gli occhiali da sole anche in piena notte, l’avventura – anche romantica – inizia sull’imbarcazione che dalle coste americane, da New York per la precisione, sta dirigendosi verso l’isola, una scalcagnata nave da carico della Regia Società di Navigazione olandese.
A bordo una coppia americana - lui è stato candidato alle lezioni presidenziali contro Truman, e ora insieme vorrebbero introdurre il veganesimo a Cuba (!?!) - e due avventurieri inglesi che imparano a conoscersi: uno è il narratore Brown, che sta facendo ritorno ad Haiti dove ha ereditato un hotel, l’altro è Jones che durante la navigazione intrattiene gli altri con le sue affascinanti storie di guerra, quando comandava plotoni in Congo e Birmania (per mia delizia Greene è tutto meno che tenero col colonialismo inglese, imperialismo mascherato da democrazia, nessuna nostalgia, nessuna giustificazione):
I gentiluomini hanno un impiego fisso o un buon reddito. Hanno qualcosa su cui contare, come lei il suo albergo. Gli svelti… be’, noi ci guadagniamo da vivere qua e là… nei bar. Teniamo le orecchie aperte e altrettanto aperti gli occhi.
Ma Greene ha in serbo per lo “svelto” Jones una fine magnifica.

Lillian Gish è la moglie nella coppia che vuole portare a Haiti la cultura vegetariana.

Morti (Le morti violente sono morti naturali, qui. È morto del suo ambiente.), suicidi (quello del ministro del Benessere Sociale!), “prima notte di quiete” trascorsa sdraiati per terra in un cimitero, bare sequestrate nel mezzo del funerale…
Greene non risparmia l’ironia neppure nei momenti più drammatici, il suo black humour percorre tutto il romanzo.
I personaggi della commedia, i commedianti del titolo diventano eroi tragici nel dramma di una terra che ha perso qualsiasi valore morale e rispetto per l’umanità.

Profile Image for William2.
745 reviews2,959 followers
February 9, 2015
This is without exception my favorite Graham Greene novel. Love and murder in 1960's Haiti among the evil Papa Doc Duvalier's Tonton Macute. The evocation of landscape and murderous heat and voodoo would alone be enough to hold our attention. But there's more than that: there's a great story of intrigue and jealousy. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Ben Sharafski.
Author 1 book125 followers
July 22, 2022
I love the novels styled by Graham Greene as 'entertainments' - Travels with my Aunt, The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana - so I was really looking forward to reading this one. Set in Haiti under the Papa Doc dictatorship, it offers all the quintessential Greene ingredients: an exotic location, an illicit love affair and a liberal dose of political intrigue.

Unfortunately, this novel is not one of Greene's best. It is not clear what it sets out to be: As a dark comedy, it's not funny; as a political thriller it fails to engage and as a realistic novel portraying life in Haiti it is only sporadically successful. Moments of verisimilitude and vividness are mixed with scenes where the crude scaffolding behind the stage is all too visible. Even Greene's trademark Catholic guilt is presented here only half-heartedly, as if the author himself was struggling to take it seriously.

A generous sprinkling of Greene's polished aphorisms and the lively descriptions of Haiti, a beautiful, tormented, hopeless land, were the highlights for me. Recommended for Greene devotees only.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
February 28, 2019
“In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.”

The Comedians is a 1966 novel set in Haiti; well, it begins with a slow boat voyage across the Atlantic with a bunch of people that joke (comedy!) and drink their way into some interconnections.

Ship of fools:


(Ship of Fools is a 1962 novel by Katherine Ann Porter, a story of a group of disparate characters sailing from Mexico to Europe aboard a German passenger ship).

One guy on this slow boat, the Medea, is an American, Smith, a minor challenger to Truman in the 1952 election, on a vegetarian (yes, you read that right) ticket. He and his wife, initially seen as kind of ridiculous, are trying to establish a Vegetarian Center in Haiti. That fact has comic potential, but one problem (and there are a few) with this scheme is that they arrive in Port-au-Prince naively ignorant of the extent of the murderous reign of Papa Doc Duvalier and his secret police, the Tonton Macoute. They don’t really realize the extent of the dangers there.

Major Jones, a Brit, also travels to Haiti to find some way to capitalize on the chaos and get rich. Like the Smiths, he is ambitious and likable, but unlike them, he is unprincipled, though they all like each other.

Our main character, an anti-hero, Brown returns to Haiti to see his mother and Martha Pineda, his lover and the wife of the Uruguayan ambassador. Brown’s mother dies, and he inherits her hotel. He’s a typically morose and politically insightful/disdainful/apolitical Greene character, a failed Catholic, having a miserable affair with Martha, who mostly loves her son. I just read Greene’s The Quiet American, set in Vietnam, and the similarities between the two main guys are striking, and maybe a little tiresome, since in both books these guys suffer from depression/ennui/despair. Greene, who suffered much of his life from depression (and maybe bipolar disorder), and also infamously had affairs, possibly could identify with Brown just a bit. Can Brown love? Would he die for a set of principles? No, on both accounts.

As Brown (and maybe Greene) sees it, Smith and his wife are better off than he is, because they love each other and are at least earnest and committed to a set of ideals. They are in his estimation possibly admirable people, while he and the almost comical pathological liar Jones just don’t care, are essentially “comedians,” which might be another word for people living in absurdity, devoid of meaning.

So: A few people have purpose in life. They are dedicated to a cause, they love, they have the courage to act and integrity. They might be Catholics or Communists or vegetarians. But they believe in something. The rest are comedians, jokers:

“You have a sense of humour. I am in favor of jokes. They have political value. Jokes are a release for the cowardly and the impotent.”

There’s a kind of companion book for this book, Junot Diaz’s wonderful The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, set in the Dominican Republic with a kind of matching brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo who rules with despotic power over his country from 1930 to 1961. Papa Doc ruled Haiti just as tyrannically (Yes? No? Pick your poison) from 1957 to 1971. The U.S. largely supported both brutal dictators, as they often seemed to do, in spite of their massacring their own people, as long as they were anti-communist, unlike Cuba’s Castro. Greene was increasingly opposed to American imperialism around the world, and he finally came down on the side of action against injustice, maybe even including violence, but at least the willingness to die for one’s beliefs. You can see that in his critique of the bleak Brown.

The Quiet American is a better book than The Comedians, but the political commentary in both books on two forever abused and neglected little countries is sadly interesting. The boat trip is a little slow in The Comedians in the way ocean trips can be, I suppose, but in the last third of the book the action and reflections on love and ideology—twin passions explored in a lot of Greene--really pick up and everything becomes suddenly and violently interesting. It Is Graham Greene. It has some great writing in it.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
August 9, 2019
At several points during my reading of this novel -- because of its crisp, realistic dialogue; dangerous setting; and intriguing, imperfect characters -- I imagined it as a movie. I just looked it up on imdb.com and, yes, there is a 1967 movie with, ugh, Burton and Taylor, not at all whom I envisioned for the roles.

Perhaps because of its title, I thought the novel would be of a sharp, exaggerated satire, but, no, I suppose the Haiti of Duvalier was surreal enough. At first meeting the three men described in the GR blurb connected to this edition, I thought Smith, the American, would come across as a buffoon and Jones might be a mere annoyance. Once again my expectations were thwarted: There is real heart behind all the characters. I disagree with the blurb that the American is one of the comedians; I don't think Smith could make a chameleon of himself, as the others can, not even to literally save his life.

While maybe not as complex as Greene's longer masterpieces, this slim novel incorporates the best of Greene: apt metaphors (not always something I say of him), introspection and smooth prose, along with the elements mentioned above.

The ending has me looking for Henry James's The Great Good Place. Here it is: http://www2.newpaltz.edu/~hathawar/go... Thank you, Mr. Greene.
Profile Image for Evan.
1,072 reviews739 followers
November 17, 2012
I've just finished this and am basking in some kind of awestruck state. The more I read of Greene, the more I'm slain. The main character, Brown, must be a sort of surrogate for the author: jaded, cynical, fatalistic; a realist who nonetheless has just enough of that kernel of optimism that allows him to hope against hope, to sometimes do the right thing even as the cowardly part of him offers token resistance.

The book takes place in Haiti in the early 1960s during the early days of the terroristic reign of the brutal dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, and in the framework of a fictional story Greene somehow conveys an illuminating, vividly rendered portrait of an historical time and place without ever resorting to historical explanations. Additionally, there's a wry critique of the Cold War (and presciently, the "war on terror"); a lament of the ongoing tendency of superpowers to support surrogate wars in Third World countries, even when they seem to contradict the supposed idealism of the enabling superpower. In this case, Papa Doc is seen as a "bulwark against communism" and the rebels, merely trying to rescue their country from a monster, are labeled as communists. As in Greene's "The Quiet American," there are westerners---Americans and Europeans---in country, operating at cross purposes or otherwise, yet virtually all ineffectual.

The book is both wry and sad, often in the same sentence, and conveys always a powerful and overwhelming sense of mood, place, tension, yearning, hopelessness and expectation. If there's anything here that leaves nagging doubts, it might be the occasional racism of Greene's omniscient narrator (though we suspect this is how the characters see things), the sense of stiltedness in some of the overly crafted dialogue and his deficiency in rounding out his female characters (Martha seems merely a defeated mirror image of her lover Brown). Still, many of Greene's black characters are rendered sympathetically and show depth, Dr. Magiot and Phillipot for instance.

The enigmatic, chameleon nature of the gypsy-like conman Jones provides Brown and the reader an evolving conundrum that eventually morphs into an absurdist, pathetic comedy. In fact, the one constant about Jones repeatedly alluded to is his talent for making anyone laugh, a skill as good as any in a world where diversion is as important as useless actions. He is, in a sense, the central "comedian" of the story. His can-do bullshitting seems infectious, and in fact, it turns out to really be the only skill he has, despite his elaborate personal backstory. The notion that we're all unwitting comedians in a tragic world seems a too obvious conceit on Greene's part, too cheap of one for an author of his skill and stature. Yet, the true nature of Jones, revealed at the book's end, makes the conceit more valid. Brown's dispassionate observations of the madness around him belie the pull of a morality that still radiates a magnetism inside him, and allows him to admire the certainty of purpose possessed by the naive American couple, the Smiths, who are on a daffy campaign to bring vegetarianism to places where people don't tend to have any food at all.

It's a darkly funny conceit in a book drenched in black comedy and tropical heat. The moral force that moves Brown finally also moves Jones to become the man he has always claimed to be, a hero stitched from the wholecloth of his own fictions. He becomes an unlikely hero, to Brown and to us. This is a splendid, memorable short novel that just may haunt you as much as it likely will me. -EG

[The 1967 film version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor is a strange and wonderful oddity but is no substitute for the book (even though Greene himself wrote the screenplay). The movie jettisons the many pages of personal backstory about Brown's youth and his mother and all the activities aboard the ship prior to his return to Haiti that make up a large part of the book's first portion. We see Jones thrown into the stockade for interrogation just a few minutes into the film, whereas in the book this takes place much later (in fact, Jones' apparent disappearance remains a mystery to other characters for quite a long time in the book). Jones is thus too demystified early in the film. There are all kinds of other changes, and I'd think someone approaching the film would wonder why certain things have any significance; it throws a lot of things at you in short dialogue bursts that take up many pages in the book. I like the film, but it lacks the book's great richness :]. -EG
Profile Image for Jayakrishnan.
488 reviews167 followers
March 30, 2022
The Comedians is a book that can be enjoyed for the superficial things alone. On the surface, the book is a thrilling adventure and a novel of place, set in Haiti. The book begins on a ship carrying a few interesting characters - the first person narrator Mr.Brown, the vegetarian couple the Smiths, the spooky Jones and the silent African who can only answer with yes or no. Mr.Brown owns the Hotel Trianon in the uncertain land of Haiti. The Smiths have arrived in Haiti to establish a vegetarian society as they believe vegetarianism can remove all passion and create world peace. The book is off to a terrific start with the interactions between these characters on the ship, punctuated by witty and sharp dialog.

The action then shifts to the Hotel Trianon. Mr.Brown is in a state of passivity as he recalls the glorious days when tourists used to throng his hotel, naked women bathed in the swimming pool and the bartender would make rum punches. But Haitian society is crumbling under the new dictatorship. Military police runs riot. His hotel is empty except for the Smiths. All Mr.Brown can do is watch helplessly and seek refuge in his hotel. Nobody knows for how long. He is also involved with the German wife of the South American ambassador in Haiti.

While I enjoyed the dialogs, the descriptions of the life in the hotel and Greene's evocation of the landscapes and customs, I am not sure I completely grasped the book's message. Greene seems to be suggesting that the world is full of "comedians" like Mr.Brown who can only watch as society crumbles. He is simply playing the part of being a dashing hotel owner and carrying on with the German lady but at the end of the day he is doomed and has no future. On the other hand, people like The Smiths are committed to their cause. Even if they may be driven by preposterous ideas, they can still save people. Mr.Smith, who once ran for president of the United States stares down an upstart military policeman and can hold his own. Mrs.Smith attempts to save the hearse of a Haitian from the military police on behalf of his wife. She even saves Mr.Brown's life when military police arrive at the Hotel Trianon. Even Jones, who is a suspicious, spooky and phony character and seems to be working for personal glory, ends up saving a few men by sacrificing his life.

Like in The End of the Affair, the book features a love quadrangle involving Mr.Brown, the German lady, Jones and Luis the South American ambassador. I don't know if this is a recurring thing in Greene's novels. Even The Third Man had some really complicated relationships.

Mr.Brown's character resonated with me. I live in India which is slowly turning into an uncertain land. While I am in a privileged position compared to millions of other Indians, some things affect me too. A couple of years ago, the government introduced partial alcohol prohibition in my home state of Kerala. Some of the cheap but glorious bars in Kerala shut down and have been replaced by family restaurants and car parks. I often find myself recalling those glorious days when I would sit for hours in the bar at Mercy Tourist Home with my friend, just talking and drinking. But those days are gone now. The control of governments and religious organizations over my life continues to rise everyday. And there isn't much I can do about it. Afterall, I am just a comedian.
Profile Image for Daren.
1,299 reviews4,370 followers
July 22, 2021
This books starts with the three main male characters, and one of the main female characters on a ship, the Medea, bound for Haiti. They are thrown together due to being the only European passengers.
They each travel to Haiti for quite different reasons.

I enjoyed this book perhaps more than any other Graham Greene novel I have read so far. Perhaps it is because the fiction is carefully wrapped in a very real setting, time and situation - Haiti in the 1960s. The time of François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, the dictatorial President, with his Tonton Macoute or secret police.

Mr Brown the hotelier, Mr Smith (an his wife) the innocent American and Mr Jones (Major Jones) the confidence man are the "Comedians" of Graham Greene's title. Greene's premise is that a few people have a purpose in life, the rest are just comedians.

For me this book strikes a curious balance - between amusing scenes and situations, and the darker oppressiveness of the dictator and the fear and violence. Then there is the intrigue, the jealousy, vegetarianism, political intrigues, voodoo, the rebels, dead ministers and power, cruelty and fear. As well as all of this, there is Greene's assertion that Americas support of Papa Doc was so poorly chosen, simply because of his objection to communism.

5 stars
November 17, 2017
Κεντάει ο συγγραφέας. Δεν ξέρω αν τα κατασκοπικά – ευρείας κατανάλωσης έργα του είναι εξίσου καλά, δεν με ενδιαφέρει κιόλας, αφού δεν πρόκειται να τα διαβάσω, αλλά αν κρίνω από τους “Θεατρίνους” 'εχει εξαιρετική πένα. Πρώτα από όλα, το έργο αυτό διαθέτει εξαιρετικές δόσεις χιούμορ κι έναν απίστευτο τρόπο να αποκαλύπτει την ωμή αλήθεια, ενώ είναι συνάμα ατμοσφαιρικό και έχει ολοζώντανους, αξιαγάπητους και ενδιαφέροντες χαρακτήρες. Ισορροπεί άψογα ανάμεσα στην δράση και στον στοχασμό και κρατάει αμείωτο το ενδιαφέρον ως την τελευταία σελίδα.

Η κεντρική ιδέα είναι πως όλοι οι άνθρωποι λίγο ως πολύ υποδυόμαστε ρόλους για μπορέσουμε να σταθούμε και να υπάρξουμε μέσα σε μια κοινωνία. Όσα ψέματα όμως κι αν πούμε, μοιραία θα έρθει η στιγμή να αντιμέτωπίσουμε την αμείλικτη πραγματικότητα, να αναμετρηθούμε με τον ίδιο μας τον εαυτό. Επίσης ο κόσμος που ζούμε είναι σκληρός και βρώμικος και δεν αρκούν ούτε οι καλύτερες προθέσεις προκειμένου να αλλάξει. Ο κόσμος αυτός μπορεί να μοιάζει με σκηνή θεάτρου στην οποία παίζεται το πιο παράλογο έργο που θα μπορούσε να συλλάβει η πιο διεστραμμένη διάνοια. Κι όταν πέσει η αυλαία, ανάμεσα στους πρωταγωνιστές θα υπάρχουν αναπόφευκτα σημαντικές απώλειες.

Η υπόθεση εκτυλίσσεται στην Αιτή, λίγο πριν και στις αρχές της δικτατορίας του Πάπα Ντοκ, δηλαδή στα 1957. Ο κεντρικός ήρωας ο κύριος Μπράουν έχει κληρονομήσει από την αλλόκοτη μητέρα του ένα ξενοδοχείο, το οποίο λόγω των πολιτικών γεγονότων παραμένει σχεδόν άδειο, καθώς ο τουρισμός μαραζώνει. Επικρατεί τρομοκρατία, καθώς η μυστική αστυνομία του δικτάτορα , οι Τοντόν Μακούτ σκοτώνουν και εκφοβίζουν ασύστολα. Ωστόσο ��ι κομπίνες, οι ρεμούλες με την αμερικάνικη βοήθεια συνεχίζονται απρόσκοπτα. Οι ντόπιοι μην έχοντας άλλη εναλλακτική πεθαίνουν από την πείνα επαιτώντας και βρίσκουν παρηγοριά στις δύο κυρίαρχες θρησκείες, το Βουντού και τον Καθολικισμό. Κι όπως αναφέρει ένας από τους ήρωες του έργου:

"Οι υποστηρικτές του Πάπα Ντοκ στην Ουάσινγκτον υποκινούνται από κάποιες αμερικάνικες εταιρίες κυλινδρόμυλων που αλέθουν το εισαγόμενο σιτάρι για την τροφοδοσία του πληθυσμού. Κι είναι στ' αλήθεια αξιοπερίεργο πόσα χρήματα μπορεί να βγάλει κανείς από μια φτωχιά χώρα, έτσι και δείξει λίγη εξυπνάδα. Επιπλέον υπάρχει η πολύ μεγάλη κομπίνα με τα μοσχαρίσια κρέατα. Οι άνθρωποι εδώ είναι τόσο φτωχοί που τρώνε κρέας τόσο συχνά όσο και γλυκίσματα. Έτσι δεν τους νοιάζει και πάρα πολύ που όλα τα κρέατα φεύγουν για την αμερικάνικη αγορά. Από την άλλη, ούτε οι εισαγωγείς νοιάζονται αν τα κρέατα αυτά συγκεντρώνουν τις σωστές προδιαγραφές μια και όλα τους γίνονται κονσέρβες για τις υπανάπτυκτες χώρες, οι οποίες και τις πληρώνουν με τα χρήματα της αμερικάνικης βοήθειας που παίρνουν. Αν το εμπόριο αυτό σταματήσει ο μέσος Αμερικάνος δεν πρόκειται να χάσει τίποτα. Οι πολιτικοί όμως της Ουάσινγκτον θα χάσουντο 1% που εισπράττουν για κάθε κιλό που εξάγεται”.

Όσα όνειρα κι αν έχει κάποιος, όσα ταλέντα κι όση πονηριά, δεν αρκούν για να αλλάξουν την ροή των προαποφασισμένων γεγονότων. Ο 20ος αιώνα δεν είναι υπήρξε επουδενί (σε αντιθεση με τον 19ο) μια εποχή αισιοδοξίας, αλλά μια εποχή ατέρμονης ανησυχίας. Η έννοια της δικαιοσύνης θυσιάστηκε στην αναγκαιότητας της διατήρησης μια ισορροπίας του τρόμου (Ψυχρός Πόλεμος) και φαίνεται πως αυτό θα συνεχιστεί και κατά τον 21ο αιώνα. Μοιραία όλοι καλούνται να παίξουν τους ρόλους τους σε μια μαύρη κωμωδία που είναι καταδικασμένη να έχει πικρό τέλος.

Ωραίο βιβλίο. Παρόλο που καταπιάνεται με σκοτεινά θέματα, χάρη στην χιουμοριστική και συχνά σαρκαστική διάθεση του συγγραφέα, δεν είναι καθόλου βαρύ. Θα διαβάσω οπωσδήποτε κάποια στιγμή κι ένα άλλο βιβλίο του, που μου το έχουν συστήσει θερμά το “The Power and the Glory”.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews14 followers
January 30, 2016

Baron Samedi faces off stick twitching Tontons Macoute. Photo by Charles Carrié

Read by Tim Piggot Smith

Description: Three men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, a world in the grip of the corrupt “Papa Doc” and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Brown the hotelier, Smith the innocent American, and Jones the confidence man—these are the “comedians” of Greene’s title. Hiding behind their actors’ masks, they hesitate on the edge of life. They are men afraid of love, afraid of pain, afraid of fear itself...

Three men walk onto a ship - a Mr Brown, a Mr Smith, and a Mr Jones - this could be mistaken for a maritime Reservoir Dogs, yet a don't think Tarantino's gangsters could match up to the Tontons Macoute and rats as big as terriers. According to wiki, the Hotel Trianon setting in the book is based on Hotel Olaffson in Central Port au Prince:

In his Ways of Escape, Greene wrote that the book "touched him [Duvalier] on the raw." Duvalier attacked The Comedians in the press. His Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a brochure entitled, "Graham Greene Demasqué" (Finally Exposed). It described Greene as "A liar, a cretin, a stool-pigeon... unbalanced, sadistic, perverted... a perfect ignoramus... lying to his heart's content... the shame of proud and noble England... a spy... a drug addict... a torturer." ("The last epithet has always a little puzzled me," Greene confessed.) Source

There is a film I need to track down: Greene himself wrote the screenplay of his novel, and it stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Guiness and Peter Usinov.

2* The Man Within (1929)
3* A Gun for Sale (1936)
4* Brighton Rock (1938)
TR The Confidential Agent (1939)
3* The Power and the Glory (1940)
4* The Ministry of Fear (1943)
2* The Heart of the Matter (1948)
3* The Third Man (1948)
4* The End of the Affair (1951)
TR Complete Short Stories (1954)
3* The Quiet American (1955)
3* Our Man in Havana (1958)
4* A Burnt Out Case (1960)
5* The Comedians (1965)
4* Travels With My Aunt (1969)
3* The Honorary Consul (1973)
4* The Human Factor (1978)
4* Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party (1980)
4* Monsignor Quixote (1982)
3* The Captain and the Enemy (1988)

Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,242 reviews2,256 followers
May 25, 2021
Smith, Jones and Brown. They are familiar to us, aren't they? We have met them across so many jokes. They are the faceless comedians in the world of levity.

In this novel, Mr. Smith a is failed American presidential candidate, who ran on the platform of vegetarianism against Harry Truman; "Major" Jones is a war-veteran from Burma (at least, as per his claim); and Brown, the narrator, is the owner of the Hotel Trianon in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. They are comedians because they keep on drifting through life in imaginary worlds of their own, refusing to see the reality around them.

The drama is played out in the Haiti of the sixties, when it was ruled by François Duvalier, or "Papa Doc" as he preferred to be called - a tinpot dictator and a cruel tyrant. He rules with an iron hand, with the help of his own secret police called the Tonton Macoute (which translates roughly to "bogeymen") who can arrest, torture, maim and kill anyone with impunity. In this banana republic, all three comedians have their own agenda.

Smith (along with his wife, who is his constant companion) wants to introduce vegetarianism to the country by starting a vegetarian centre. Being an American and a "presidential candidate", he gets better treatment than most people within the country. However, the canny Haitian administration is not interested in any business which would not generate "revenue" for the individuals involved in it - so they are not interested in Smith's offer, made in the best of faith. But even this disappointment, and the distressing events the Smith couple are witness to, do not shake their childlike faith in the essential goodness of the black man.

If Smith becomes a comedian because of his hopeless idealism, Jones becomes one through his reckless adventurism. He has made himself into a caricature of the British empire-maker; the pukka sahib whose English itself is dated as though it came out of a book of phrases. Jones has widely varying fortunes within the country, swinging from mistreated prisoner to favoured entrepreneur to wanted criminal to revolutionary, all the while keeping his facade intact.

Brown, the narrator, is neither a crook nor a saint. His life is centred around turning his failing hotel around (who will vacation in a police state?), and committing adultery with Martha Pineda, the wife of the ambassador from a South American country. Towards the end of the novel, this affair becomes an obsession and it is his jealousy which precipitates the final crisis.

Graham Greene has done a masterful job of keeping an emotionless and mildly cynical tone throughout the novel - Brown is the best candidate to do that, which is why the author uses his POV in my opinion. From the first meeting of the comedians on board the Haiti-bound Medea, to their final departure from the country through various means, Brown's voice refuses to get involved. He is only a spectator (an automaton, almost) to unfolding human tragedy on all sides; except when he talks about his clandestine meetings with Martha, where he shows himself as an extreme example of male possessiveness.

This novel was published in 1966, when Papa Doc's despotic rule was a political reality - so it was pretty contemporary. Reading it five-and-a-half decades down the line, one could call it historical fiction. What the story does beautifully is to capture the essence of a time and place through the lives of various individuals; it makes it fixed in history yet relevant for all times.
Profile Image for A. Dawes.
186 reviews55 followers
June 4, 2017

Must be my Graham Greene year, read him sporadically before, but now I can't seem to get enough of him.

The story takes place in the madhouse that is Haiti during the early 1960s. Haiti at the time was a melting pot of voodoo, colonialism, and terror. The corrupt dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, rules through fear and unpredictability, and many from abroad are unsafe (as are the locals).

There's comment here from Greene on how the so-called superpowers of the Cold War supported such horrific regimes for their own political gain sake (can't say much has changed). In this case the totalitarian regime had the US patronage, as Haiti was seen as a combatant against the spread of communism. Irony obviously abounds.

The protagonist, hotelier Brown (Comedian No. 1), is from what I've read and seen of Greene's own life, a strong reflection of the author himself. He's cynical but with a ray of hope, a deep thinker, both passionate and uncertain in his affairs of the heart. Haiti is in dangerous turmoil and Brown is nearly devoid of care as he watches the chaos surrounding him. This is highlighted by his comical commentary on the incredibly naïve American couple, The Smiths (Comedians N0. 2), who in this bizarre state of national upheaval are on a ludicrous campaign to spread vegetarian eating, despite the fact many Haitians have no food at all.

Jones (Comedian no. 3) is a complex character. Who is he really? Hero? Anti-hero? Part conman/part hero? Or complete conman? Yet Jones also has the unique ability to elicit laughter from anybody. Jones, as the flawed figure in many of Greene's novels, does possess some courageous heroic traits. And whether there's a grain of truth in his layered fictitious self-proclaimed backstory, Jones is ultimately heroic.

They are all in danger in the politically charged and incredibly unstable atmosphere.

This is clever Greene. A situational blend of comedy and drama, replete with irony but also a witty commentary on the free world at the time.
Profile Image for John.
1,141 reviews84 followers
August 30, 2019
Always a pleasure for me to discover and read a new Greene novel. Great characters with the world weary, cynical and jaded main character lumbered with a hotel in Haiti at the time of Papa Doc’s crazy dictatorship. A love hate relationship with the German wife of an ambassador.

The semi abandoned hotel suddenly gets a US presidential vegetarian candidate. He has decided to go to Haiti with the insane and challenging idea of opening a vegetarian centre in Haiti! Another mysterious and dubious guest Jones is a Walter Mitty type character trying to make his fortune. The Haiti extremely corrupt secret police are incompetence personified, funny but also dangerous in their craziness.

Comical in places as well as tragic. Another brilliant Greene novel and I can understand why Papa Doc was a bit upset when the novel was first published.
Profile Image for FotisK.
355 reviews157 followers
May 17, 2018
Η μεγάλη εκτίμηση και ο σεβασμός που τρέφω για τον G. Greene είνα�� δεδομένος. Σε όποια επαφή είχα -ακόμα έχω- με το λογοτεχνικό του έργο, η επίγευση παραμένει εκείνη της πλησμονής, της λογοτεχνικής απόλαυσης και πληρότητας. Το αυτό ανέμενα και από τους "Θεατρίνους". Πολλώ δεν μάλλον, όταν οι απανταχού κριτικές και αναγνώστες "παιάνιζαν" "Αριστούργημα!" και λοιπούς πληθωριστικούς χαρακτηρισμούς θαυμασμού.
Τα προαναφερθέντα δεν πιστεύω πως ισχύουν στην περίπτωση των "Θεατρίνων", μυθιστορήματος που με άφησε σε μια κατάσταση παγερής αταραξίας. Δεν αναφέρομαι βέβαια στην υπόθεση του έργου (εξελίσσεται στα χρόνια της δικτατορίας στην Αϊτή, όχι πως έχει σημασία…), αλλά στο χαρακτηριστικό ύφος του συγγραφέα, του οποίου το "φάντασμα" μόνο μπόρεσα να διακρίνω εδώ.
Εκτός του αφηγητή, ο οποίος είναι έρμαιο του παραδοσιακού Green-ικού διπόλου "καθολικού-παθητικού/ ιδεολόγου εμπλεκομένου", οι δευτερεύοντες χαρακτήρες φαντάζουν στα μάτια μου "χάρτινοι", παρουσίες που πλαισιώνουν τον κεντρικό χαρακτήρα, περισσότερο φορείς ιδεών παρά αυθύπαρκτες μυθιστορηματικές οντότητες με "Ουσία και Βάθος" (τι υπέροχο βιβλίο!).
Ακόμα και η ατελέσφορη -σύνηθες μοτίβο στο έργο του- ερωτική σχέση του μονίμως τυπτόμενου ήρωα, αποτελεί απλό μετείκασμα εκείνης του τραγικού "Τέλους μιας σχέσης", της ωραιότερης ερωτικής ιστορίας, κατά την άποψή μου.
Συγκεφαλαιώνοντας, οι "Θεατρίνοι" δεν είναι κακό βιβλίο. Απλώς μου άφησε την αίσθηση πως όλα εκείνα τα εξέχοντα στοιχεία συγγραφικής ιδιαιτερότητας του Greene ως συγγραφέα εξέλιπαν, και πως θα μπορούσε τελικά να είχε γραφτεί από κάποιον σύγχρονο γραφιά με παρόμοιες ανησυχίες και στυλ. Και αυτό, για εμένα, αποτελεί τη μεγαλύτερη μομφή.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,890 reviews218 followers
May 15, 2020
First of all, The Comedians is not a comedy, and the humor is dark. It is about the regime of “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti. It graphically portrays the terrorism of the Tontons Macoute, Duvalier’s secret police. The exact year is not given but it appears to be early 1960s. It opens on a ship with the three men, Smith, Jones, and Brown, traveling to Port-au-Prince. We hear parts of their back stories during the voyage and more details upon arriving in Haiti.

Mr. Brown operates a hotel in Port-au-Prince, but his hotel is now almost out of business due to the policies of the current dictatorship. Mr. Smith is an American politician, traveling with his wife. The couple is idealistic, and they want to bring vegetarianism to Haiti. They stay at Brown’s hotel. Major Smith is the mystery man of the novel. He tells many tales of his past exploits but has not convinced everyone. His mission to Haiti is initially unclear but we find out more as the story progresses. The title refers to people that do not take a stand in life. They are “the comedians,” and protagonist Mr. Brown admits to being among them. He admits to going through life without realizing what is important, and at the end, we see the ramifications of his indecisiveness.

Greene’s writing is wonderfully expressive. His characters are flawed and well-formed. He takes on the US and other countries’ policies of the period in support of dictators, providing they were anti-communist. Published in 1966, it is a novel of its time but still absorbing these many years later.
Profile Image for Paul Secor.
548 reviews48 followers
June 11, 2018
The Comedians is almost - almost - as dark as a pair of Tontons Macoute sunglasses.


After I finished reading The Comedians, I read Paul Theroux's introduction and wondered why he wrote it, since his opinion of it is not very high. After very little thought, the answer is that he was paid to write it and it was just another writing gig. Then I wondered why Penguin accepted his introduction and printed it. I couldn't come up with an answer for that one. If I were the publisher, I would have paid him and told him to hit the road and to take his intro with him.
Profile Image for Janelle.
1,160 reviews141 followers
March 20, 2021
This a dark novel yet there’s plenty of black humour in amongst some gruesome scenes.
Brown, Jones and Smith are three men who meet on a boat to Haiti.
Brown, the narrator, owns a hotel in Port-au-Prince.
Major Jones is more of a mystery, he may be a war veteran or just a braggart.
Smith, is “the presidential candidate”. American, he and Mrs Smith want to spread vegetarianism, to end “acidity” and therefore violence.
Are they major players or just comedians on the great stage of life?

Haiti is under the control of “Papa doc” Duvalier, and his violent secret police, the Tonton Macoutes.
There’s murder, corruption, political repression and in this Cold War era the CIA backs this murderous regime supposedly as a bulwark against communism but of course there’s plenty of profiteering.

“The ambassador said, ‘Come on, cheer up, let us all be comedians together. Take one of my cigars. Help yourself at the bar. My Scotch is good. Perhaps even Papa Doc is a comedian.”

Wikipedia says “Duvalier attacked The Comedians in the press. His Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a brochure entitled, "Graham Greene Demasqué" (Finally Exposed). It described Greene as "A liar, a cretin, a stool-pigeon... unbalanced, sadistic, perverted... a perfect ignoramus... lying to his heart's content... the shame of proud and noble England... a spy... a drug addict... a torturer."”
That is funny!
Profile Image for Steve.
802 reviews225 followers
October 8, 2010
Several years back, after reading Robert Stone’s (underappreciated) Bay of Souls, I saw someone somewhere say that Stone had departed from his Conradian foundation, and had pulled a Delillo on readers. I puzzled over that, because even though Bay of Souls is a change in approach, I didn’t see any of the incomprehensible Falling Man in Stone’s hallucinogenic tropical nightmare book. With Graham Greene’s The Comedians, however, I believe I have found the source for Stone’s trippy foray. And it makes sense, since a jump from Conrad to Greene to Stone, is as logical as 1-2-3. One probably shouldn’t start out a review with a digression, but reading Green’s book has made me want to return to Stone’s book for more of the same.

Published in 1966, The Comedians is unlike any book I’ve yet read by Greene (I’ve not read them all, but I’ve read a lot of them). It’s funnier, raunchier, and looser than his other books. I don’t know whether it’s considered one of his “Catholic” novels or not, but you will get plenty of meditations on sin, evil, love, suicide, and death. The novel opens with a ship a ship headed to Haiti. On board are three men, with the improbable gathering of Everyman names: Smith, Jones, and Brown. Brown owns a hotel in Haiti, which is now ruled by Papa Doc Duvalier. (As it turns out, while in New York, Brown has been trying to sell his Hotel.) Smith, is a former Presidential Candidate for the Vegetarian Party (is that so far fetched anymore?); and Jones, who is always described as “ambigious,” is a confidence man – who everyone (oddly) seems to like. Given where this bunch is headed, a real Hell, it’s not hard to see Greene as setting this up as a Ship of Fools.

Brown is the main character. Educated in Jesuit schools, he has lived a lonely life, virtually parentless. Like Greene (also a color) himself, he’s pushing 60. He currently is having a pretty hot relationship with Martha, the wife of the German ambassador. And by hot, I mean they’re doing it in the car, the lawn, and wherever else they can fit some action in. However, Brown’s own self loathing cannot seem to let it move beyond more than sex. He thinks himself incapable of love, and yet he desires it. When Brown gets nasty, he faults Martha for being German (and she in fact the daughter of a Nazi war criminal – though she carries none of that evil baggage). But longing for Martha is unrealistic anyway, since she’s a devoted mother to her son, Angel (see Hawthorne’s also eagle eyed “Pearl”). Martha would never leave her husband (who is not a bad man) if it means losing her son.

Once ashore, Brown finds his hotel empty, and the body of a government official in the empty pool. He has cut his own throat out of fear of Duvalier’s thugs, the Tonton Macoutes. What follows is a series of episodes, often comic (as in the Coen Brothers sense of “comic”), as Brown tries to deal with disposing of the body, keeping the Smiths (Holy Fools) out of trouble, having more sex with Martha, and keeping track of the trajectory (Up then Down) of Major Jones – who is brewing up some scheme with the Tonton Macoutes. At times this can get a bit wearying, especially when it comes to ridiculous conversations with the Smiths about vegetarianism and good works. Brown, from the start of the novel, likes to see all the characters he meets as actors – comedians, working through their silly human roles on their silly human stage. Tragedy is a thing for young men who believe in something. Brown is at that late point in life where he doesn’t believe in much of anything anymore. But as the novel unfolds, Brown continually sells himself short. He intervenes repeatedly, and bravely, into situations that put him at great risk. Beneath the cynicism there is a lingering sense of hope. And Brown responds best when he senses the goodness of others (the Smiths in particular), and will rise to defend it. As a reader, you never really buy into the We-Are-All Comedians world view. Sure, the grin painted on the skull in a place like Haiti is brightly colored, but it’s still a skull. In one late Conradian passage, Brown, while meditating on a picture hanging in his hotel, drops his novel long pretence of life as a comedy filled with comedians. Brown does (as he always has) see the horror, the corruption of the place. Life – and Death are at the heart of this novel:

On the first landing there was a picture by Phillipe Auguste of a carnival procession, men, women, and children wearing bright masks. Of a morning, when the sunlight shone through the first-floor windows, the harsh colours gave an impression of gaiety, the drummers and the trumpeters seemed about to play a lively air. Only when you came closer you saw how ugly the masks were and how the masquers surrounded a cadaver in grave-clothes; then the primitive colours went flat as though the clouds had come down from Kenscoff and the thunder would soon follow. Wherever that picture hung, I would feel Haiti close to me.

So the tone may be different, but with Greene the moral concerns remain the same.

Profile Image for Dmitri.
191 reviews136 followers
April 30, 2023
"Come on, cheer up, let us all be comedians together. Take one of my cigars, my scotch is good. Perhaps even Papa Doc is a comedian." - An Ambassador, the husband of Brown's mistress.

"Neither of us would ever die for love. We would grieve and separate and find another. We belonged to the world of comedy and not of tragedy." - Brown on his affair with the Ambassador's wife

"I found myself again in possession of money and in love with a woman, a coincidence no more unlikely than the encounter on the Atlantic between three people named Smith, Brown and Jones".


Smith, Brown and Jones board a cargo ship from New York to Haiti. Brown is a British hotel owner in Port-au-Prince, the narrator and cynical observer of events. Smith is a former American presidential candidate traveling with his wife. They are vegetarian, pacifist, civil rights activists. Jones claims to have been a major in the British military. Brown warns the Smith's and Jones of death squads, the Tontons Macoute, that Papa Doc Duvalier uses to terrorize Haiti.

Home again in Haiti, Brown resumes relationships put on hold when he fled to New York. They include Martha, the wife of a South American diplomat. Brown's life story is told from an out of wedlock birth to inheritance of a hotel from his mother. The Smith's come to stay with Brown but Jones is detained by the police. Philipot, a fugitive cabinet member hiding in Brown's home turns up dead. The Smith's in their American naivete can't grasp the danger around them.

Jones is freed, now posing as an arms dealer to Papa Doc's bogeyman militia. A nephew of Philipot plots to overthrow the regime. Brown's bartender Joseph was crippled by the police and joins the insurrection. Jones weapon sale swindle is uncovered and Brown helps him escape to fight against the American backed junta. Magiot, a doctor involved in the revolution, reflects that while Catholics and communists had created great crimes at least they did not stand idly aside.

When Brown was young he believed a Christian God was behind every tragedy. Nearing old age he came to believe a practical joker directed a comedy from above. The story takes place in the early 60's. Duvalier had consolidated power with US aid to fight communism, stealing most of the money. The setting was inspired by the Hotel Oloffson which Greene frequented in the late 50's. Characters walk off the pages of Greene's own life, embodying both comedy and tragedy.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
983 reviews363 followers
July 21, 2021
The setting is Haiti during the early 1960s when Papa “Doc” Duvalier assumed the reigns of the Presidency. The country is a police state where one is being constantly threatened by the “Tonton Macoute” who are essentially thugs and can do what they want.

The plot is interesting enough – and our main protagonist owns a hotel near Port au Prince, that prior to the outbreak and instability, was quite popular. Now, like the country, it is a shambles. Our lead character is carrying on an affair with the wife of the Venezuelan ambassador. Also, there is an American couple visiting who have no knowledge of Haiti and want to promote the vegetarian lifestyle. With the “Tonton Macoute” constantly lurking about, it all makes for some interesting confrontations.

Profile Image for Sketchbook.
676 reviews218 followers
June 30, 2014
Monstrously good -- and disturbing.

A few hundred miles off the Florida coast you'll find "an evil floating slum," says Greene, who makes us aware of the violent and corrupt republic of Haiti. Throughout the 60s it was ruled by Papa "Doc" Duvalier, a crackpot viper-tyrant (Hitler meets a runaway from any PG Wodehouse novel), who jibbered anti-Com jingles. Result: he murdered thousands of his own people while pocketing millions in US aid.

Welcome to a perfect Greeneland. (If GG were alive he'd write a devastating narrative on the foolhardy Bush/Neo-Con attempt to "remap" the Mideast). Most of us don't know anything about Haiti, or care to -- except Americans are still advised to stay away. Yes, it's all very creepy and gives you bad dreams just thinking about the Caribe's 3rd World "nightmare republic" -- a light sail from Key West.

Into a ghastly comic Grand Guignol arrives Greene, providing an adulterous affair (well, naturally), at least one death and two suicides easily predicted, and a sprinkle of mystic cologne (well, naturally), along with a voodoo ritual. You can't put the book down (well, naturally).

Salute: Geoff Grandfield for cover art (Penguin Classics).
Profile Image for Paradoxe.
404 reviews108 followers
May 28, 2017
Αντιλαμβάνομαι πολύ περισσότερο την ουσία του Ensam τώρα, ειδικά μετά τους Θεατρίνους. Ενδιαφέρον βιβλίο, κολλητικό, παρήγορο, συγγενικό μου, φρέσκο, κυνικό και όμως παλιό, ξεφτισμένο και πλούσιο, σα να γράφτηκε τώρα μόλις, ή πριν εκατό χρόνια. Λέει ο Γκρην πως γεννηθήκαμε και προετοιμαζόμασταν για μια ζωή τραγωδίας κι ωστόσο όλα τα συστατικά δημιουργούν συνεχόμενες και συνεχιζόμενες σκηνές κωμωδίας. Απόλυτα εξοπλισμένοι και γαλουχημένοι για να αντιμετωπίσουμε το δράμα, είμαστε λίγοι, ρηχοί, ψεύτικοι, ακατάλληλοι για την κωμωδία. Αντιμετωπίζουμε τα σοβαρά με γελοιότητα και κυνισμό στα γελοία δίνουμε όλο το βάρος και την έγνοια μας. Είμαστε γελοιοπρεπείς. Αναμένουμε διαρκώς κορδωμένοι την υπέρτατη φράση σοβαρότητας για να λάμψουμε και χάνουμε την ουσία σε κάθε εισπνοή και σε κάθε εκπνοή. Κατηγοριοποιούμε τους άλλους σε συναφείς συναδέλφους στις δικές μας θεατρικές παραστάσεις και κομπάρσους ή πρωταγωνιστές άλλων ειδών, τους οποίους πασχίζουμε να κατηγορήσουμε για υποκρισία ή ασυνέχεια, περνώντας στο ντούκου την όποια γνησιότητα τους μας είναι ξένη, ή πολύ υψηλή.

Τα ταξίδια που δεν είναι δικά μας τα προτιμούμε σε καμβάδες κακοφτιαγμένων απομιμήσεων για να χλευάσουμε, να εφησυχαστούμε, ή αριστουργημάτων ώστε να αισθανθούμε ασφάλεια απ’ την απόσταση μ’ εμάς. Όλοι διαλέγουμε τις υποκρισίες, τα φρονήματα, τα ιδανικά μας, ακόμα όμως και τα σημεία που μένουμε άφωνοι απ’ τη βαναυσότητα ή που λέμε αρκετά. Ως εκείνη τη στιγμή όμως που μένουμε ακλόνητοι συνεχίζουμε τις διαρκείς κωμωδίες και τα μικροδράματα, ή τα ιμιτασιόν δράματα π��οσπαθώντας να πατάμε σε μισές ειλικρίνειες που κρύβουν το φόβο της ρηχότητας και των ματαιοτήτων μας κι έτσι προχωράει ώσπου να παλέψουμε ή να πεθάνουμε μωροφιλοδοξώντας για την κορύφωση που ακόμη δεν ήρθε να μας στέψει.

Ένας κόσμος βαναυσότητας, αρρωστημένου αέρα όπου ζουν όλοι, είναι αναγκασμένοι να ζουν σε αυτή τη συνθήκη και με τον ένα ή τον άλλο τρόπο, επιβιώνουν. Ένας μόνιμος περιβάλλων χώρος που χρωματίζει τα μικροπάθη και τα πταίσματα κάθε ύπαρξης. Άλλοτε επιβάλλεται κι άλλοτε απλά παραμένει., με την ανοχή όσων θα μπορούσαν να το αλλάξουν και την παραίτηση όσων δε μπορούν μέσα σε μια πασαρέλα από ευκαιριάκηδες, πλιατσικολάγνους, κ@λωμένους, αδιάφορους, ωραιολόγους που δε διστάζουν στην παραμικρή καταπάτηση ενός προσωπικού ορίου ευτελούς, αλλά δικού τους που καθιστά τη ζωή τους πολιτισμένη στο γαλουχημένο μέτρο της καθώσπρέπει ζωής ώστε να ξεχάσουμε την πολιτισμένη φάσα τους στιγμιαία για να κυλιστούν μετά εντονότερα και περισσότερο σ’ αυτή από κάλπικες τύψεις, χωρίς να μπορούν να δουν ότι ο αναβρασμός τους θα μπορούσε να οδηγήσει σε κάτι πραγματικά καλό.

Όλος ο κόσμος είναι θεατρικά όμορφος για τον outsider που μόλις εισβάλλει και τον κατακτήσει, τον υφαρπάξει και μια μόνη λεπτομέρεια δημιουργήσει ασυνέχειες σ’ αυτό που συνήθισε να βλέπει ή να κάνει αποδεικνύοντας τη σθεναρή άρνηση αναγνώρισης πως η ρουτίνα μας δημιουργεί ασφάλεια όσο κι αν την κατηγορούμε, αμέσως αφηνιάζει, γκρεμίζεται, ψάχνει τρόπο να ενώσει πάλι τα άκρα, να τα μπαλώσει κι άμα δε μπορεί τα κάνει λάβαρο, όνειρο και στο μεταξύ βυθίζεται σε άλλες λεπτομέρειες συνέχειας, σε άλλες ρουτίνες, έτοιμος να δεχτεί ως κάποιο βαθμό και τη χειρότερη κατάσταση αρκεί να παραμείνει εκεί, στους ίδιους διαδρόμους, στις ίδιες συνθήκες, στην ίδια κατάσταση, να μην αλλάξει, να μην αλλαχτεί. Γιατί στην πραγματικότητα δεν πιστεύουμε σε τίποτα έξω απ’ ότι παρέχει το καλό μας και δε μας νοιάζει να βοηθήσουμε κανέναν αν αυτό δε μας εξασφαλίζει πως εμείς θα μπορέσουμε να συνεχίσουμε ως εκθέματα σε ένα μουσείο χωρίς να αγγίζουμε, ούτε ν’ αγγιζόμαστε για χάρη της προσωπικής γαλήνης, της ανάγκης περιχαράκωσης ώστε να περιφρουρήσουμε τη νωθρότητα μας, τη μαρμότα μας, την ειδυλλιακή εικόνα πως δε δαπανούμε μια ολόκληρη ζωή σε ασημαντότητες για τα λίγα λεπτά που θα άξιζαν όσο πενήντα χρόνια επανάληψης.

Ίσως θεατρινισμός να είναι κι ο αριβισμός, η ματαιοδοξία, η μωροφιλοδοξία μας. Τι πειράζει αν σκονιστούμε, η σκόνη δεν έχει χρώμα. Αρκεί να γεμίσουμε τις τσέπες μας, να ξαλαφρώσουμε στο ιδρωμένο κορμί κάποιας υποταγμένης στην εξουσία μας για μερικές δεκάρες και να γευτούμε την αίγλη των επιφανών υποκριτών και νικητών, των βάναυσων. Είναι τόσο διεγερτική η εξουσία, τόσο επιτρέπει ένα εύρος παιχνιδιών που καθιστά κι εμάς πολυδιάστατους, όσο και … διπρόσωπους.

Θέατρο είναι να γίνεσαι μάρτυρας μιας σπουδαίας πράξης, να τη νιώθεις που σε ζεσταίνει όσο μικρή κι αν είναι, όσο ατελέσφορη αποδειχτεί, αρκεί που είναι έξω απ’ το εγώ, αποκλειστικά έξω απ’ το εγώ και να λες πως δε φτάνεις, θα ήταν ισάξια ίσως του πατέρα που θα ήθελες να είχες και να μη βλέπεις πως απλώς δε νοιάζεσαι για να νοιαστείς, δε νοιάζεσαι για να γίνει αυτή η ζέστα μόνιμη, δε νοιάζεσαι να δεις πόση ανακούφιση υπάρχει στη βοήθεια που σου προσφέρουν ώστε μ’ αγαλλιασμένη χαρά να προσφέρεις κι εσύ. Το θέατρο βρίσκεται στο να μη βλέπουμε πως ο ανθρωπισμός υπάρχει, δεν είναι μια λέξη, ή μια θεωρία, ή γνώρισμα των ιεραποστόλων, είναι στο λερό εργάτη, όσο και στον πλούσ��ο Αμερικανό που σκορπάει χρήματα στους ζητιάνους.

Γελοιοπρεπείς είμαστε όλοι. Τι χρειάζεται για να γίνουμε αυθεντικοί; Ένας πόλεμος που θα μας στερήσει τα δεδομένα; Μια γυναίκα που όταν μας φύγει σε μια βίαιη ησυχία συνειδητοποιούμε πόσο πολύτιμη υπήρξε; Υποκριτές, τυφλοί και μισάνθρωποι. Μισάνθρωποι από αδιαφορία. Ξυπνάει το ενδιαφέρον μας μόνο μέσα σε μια συγκινητική ιστορία, ίσα για να κομπάσουμε σε άλλους ή τον εαυτό μας και να εφησυχάσουμε αυτό που δεν πέθανε ακόμα, απ’ το χέρι να το πάρουμε και σ’ ένα στρώμα πάγου να το αποκοιμίσουμε πάλι, ως την επόμενη ωραία ιστορία που οικειοθελώς θα θελήσουμε να μάθουμε, ή θα προσκρούσει με βία, έξαφνα πάνω μας.

Ίσως η ουσία βρίσκεται ακριβώς σ’ αυτό που διατυπώνεται στη σελίδα 342, πως υποκρίνομαι σημαίνει δραπετεύω. Το θέατρο είναι η ονειροπαγίδα όπου παύουμε να είμαστε αυτό που δε θέλουμε, μας παίρνει το κύμα σα να βρισκόμαστε μέσα στη θάλασσα. Απομακρυνόμαστε αλλά ��χι πολύ, ούτε άγαρμπα, ή με βία, παρασερνόμαστε προς τα ρηχά ή τα άπατα ανάλογα τι προσδοκούμε. Έπειτα θέλουμε να πλατύνει αυτή η ονειροπαγίδα, να κατακλύσει τα πάντα. Είναι τόσο εύκολο με λίγες λέξεις που βεβαιώνουν τα ανύπαρκτα που δεν αντέχουμε να επιδιώξουμε, βλέποντας πως τα πιστεύουν οι άλλοι ίσως γιατί θα τα πίστευαν για μας σαν αληθινά, πειθόμαστε και νιώθουμε ωραία σ’ όσα μοιάζουν για αλήθειες μέχρι τη στιγμή που η πόρτα κρίνει στο σιωπηλό σπίτι μας, σα μια αυλαία που πέφτει και μένουμε με το περίβλημα μας να πετάγεται όπως κοχλάζει το παχύρευστο υγρό την ώρα του βρασμού, εκείνο το πλατύ αργό μπραφ, που μοιάζει επικίνδυνο, φοβιστικό, θα μπορούσε και να μας τραυματίσει κι ύστερα μένουμε γυμνοί μέσα μας.

Θεατρίνος είναι αυτός που αντιμετωπίζει τον εαυτό του και την κάθε σχέση του ως σκετς πάνω στη σκηνή, ως ξένο αντικείμενο για παρατήρηση και περιχαρακώνεται πίσω απ’ την εγωκεντρική αδιαφορία του με φόβο να αντιμετωπίσει – αναγνωρίσει τον εαυτό του, μήπως ανακαλύψει σ’ όλους αυτούς τους πόλους για τους οποίους ποτέ μα ποτέ δε θα μπορέσει να ξαναζήσει στιγμές χωρίς πάθος και πίστη, απορρίπτοντας κάθε άλλη πρόταση, όταν οι … ‘’χρωματισμένες μπάλες’’ των πίστεων ή των απιστιών παύουν να αιωρούνται και σκάνε στο πάτωμα τζούφιες.

Σπουδαίο μυθιστόρημα που απογειώνει τη σκιαγράφηση χαρακτήρων σε ένα άλλο επίπεδο. Λιτό, γρήγορο, ασυγκράτητο και παθιασμένο. Συγγενικό του Ρεμάρκ, του Τερζάκη, του Σοπενάουερ, του Κόνραντ. Από τα τρία βιβλία που διάβασα αυτή την περίοδο είναι το μοναδικό που αξίζει τα 5 αστέρια κι ατόφια. Κρατήστε αυτό, αν θέλετε. Οι συλλογισμοί μου παραπάνω είναι δικοί μου, χρωματισμένοι απ’ το βιβλίο όσο κι απ’ τη ζωή και τις γνώσεις μου. Μπορεί να είναι λάθος, ή ανοησίες. Αλλά το βιβλίο αξίζει.
Profile Image for booklady.
2,230 reviews65 followers
July 19, 2018
Although I’ve yet to read everything by Graham Greene, and he’s one of my favorite authors with several novels ranking ‘Top 100’ status, The Comedians by him has now elbowed its way up there among the ‘amazingly unforgettable’ stories at the top.

As with most GG books, it shares a tropical but not exotic setting: Haiti, under François Duvalier, un-affectionately known as “Papa Doc”, elected president in 1957 on a populist and black nationalist platform, who ruled the poverty-stricken country from 1957 to 1971 by means of the Tonton Macoute, an undercover death squad, which killed ruthlessly and indiscriminately—at least as feared by native Haitians as the KGB and/or the SS were in their respective times and countries.

Into this setting sails the main character, Brown, the story’s narrator, a disillusioned part-English, native Monacan, returning to claim the hotel left by his deceased mother. With him are Jones, a likeable fool and Smith and his wife, Americans coming to bring vegetarianism to Haiti, where most people are too poor to even buy meat. But before you dismiss the Smiths as comic figures—as I was wont to do at first—that isn’t what GG has in mind by his title.

By comedians, Greene is actually making reference to The Divine Comedy, the ultimate Story where we all dwell whether or not we acknowledge it. Here we face the choice: comedy or tragedy? A comedy ends in marriage and a tragedy in death. In the supernatural realm this refers to our soul. Will we wed the Bridegroom, Jesus, or will we choose spiritual death instead?

As I listened to The Comedians, I didn’t spend much time thinking about this analogy—the plot line was too enjoyable. I’m loathe to write anything which might give away too much now. Let’s just say, don’t read too many reviews about this book unless you want this excellent story spoilt ahead of time. Knowing nothing about the book going into it, except for a bit of Haiti history for the time, is best.

Near the beginning of the book, good-natured Jones said, “I divide the world into two parts—the toffs and the tarts. . .” By that he meant, those who are committed and those who aren’t. “Who are The Comedians?” In other words, who are those who will choose commitment ... gain Eternal Life? It is always an individual choice.

GREAT book!
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,686 followers
November 20, 2012
"We mustn't complain too much of being comedians—it's an honourable profession. If only we could be good ones the world might gain at least a sense of style. We have failed—that's all. We are bad comedians, we aren't bad men."

I started out thinking I was going to just read a 'minor' Greene, and finished the novel once again shocked by my ability to completely underestimate Greene. The Comedians is a dark tragedy set in a Haitian Hell ruled by Papa Doc and his Tonton Macoute. Into this tortured hell floats Brown, the Smiths and Jones. This sad troupe each struggles with overcoming fear, death, love and apathy while dancing on the edge of the abyss. It reminded me a little of Under the Volcano, but instead of one man's struggle with mescal, it is humanity's struggle with apathy and fear.
Profile Image for D'Ailleurs.
187 reviews
August 14, 2019
Είμαι πολύ λίγος για να μιλήσω για τον Graham Greene, μου αρέσει οτιδήποτε έχει γράψει και θέλω να διαβάσω τα άπαντα. Δεν θέλω να πω τίποτα παρα μόνό ότι η σκιαγράφιση των χαρακτήρων είναι τόσο ζωντανή όσο κανενός σύγχρονου συγγραφέα ένω τα ηθικά διλήμματα είναι πραγματικά χωρίς να έχουν φτηνό μελόδραμα και αναμόχλευση των κλισέ. Πάντα τέτοια!!
Profile Image for Quo.
284 reviews
May 6, 2021
There are a great many links in Graham Greene's The Comedians to other books by the author & even certain turns of phrase are reminiscent of his other works. And yet, much of the novel serves as an antidote to the regime of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier & the country of Haiti, causing the book to seem quite singular. Early on, the narrator states that he "was returning without much hope to a country of fear & frustration and yet as the ship drew nearer to the port, every familiar feature gave me a kind of happiness."

This seems an almost standard beginning for a British author who seemed to challenge himself & to feel most at home by creating great distance between himself & Great Britain, whether in Haiti, Panama, Vietnam, Mexico, Argentina, the Congo, Liberia & Sierra Leone in West Africa or some other exotic landscape.

Greene seems to revel in presenting "burnt out cases", including an architect in the Congo who is an atheist but who builds cathedrals, or those who demonstrate "moral ambiguity", as with a Mexican "whiskey priest" who has a mistress & a child but still aspires to do good. In The Comedians the main character/narrator "Brown" meets a most ambiguous fellow with a very checkered past, a man called "Major Jones", a fellow passenger on the ship en route to Haiti & they become conjoined in a way that reminded me often of the relationship between the Orson Welles character, Harry Lyme & the one portrayed by Joseph Cotton (Holly Martins) in the film adaptation of Greene's The Third Man, complete with many "old man" references by Jones, aimed at Brown in The Comedians.

Brown has "come home" in part because his mother, who owns a colorful, historic but fading hotel in Port-au-Prince is ailing & while he never really knew his mother who had sent him off to a Jesuit boarding school early on, Haiti has as good a claim to being "home" as any other port he has spent time at, declaring that being from Monte Carlo is rather like being without a country. With the death of his mother, Brown inherits the hotel, called the "Trianon", at a point when there are few guests but with two of them, former shipmates, an elderly American couple named Smith oddly enough hoping to begin a vegetarian community in Haiti.

The not very secret police, the "Tonton Macoute" are ever-present, menacing forces in support of Duvalier but Brown is courted by the remaining intelligentsia, a residue of the artistic community and a few whose mission is to somehow replace the dictator with a more benevolent administration. Greene's point of view is distinctly anti-American in this novel & in others, because in its zeal to foil communism in the Caribbean in the Age of Castro's Cuba, the U.S. supports Duvalier by default.

In the midst of many entanglements, Brown the hotelier continues a passionate relationship with Martha, the wife of the ambassador of a small unnamed South American country, apparently begun during his previous stay in Haiti. This relationship reminds one quite distinctly of that between Sarah & Maurice in The End of the Affair but is a compelling one with a somewhat different angle, at least for those in the thrall of Graham Greene. Almost everyone in the novel seems to be playing a role & some even find the game a pleasant distraction from the heat, humidity & omnipresent terror of life in Haiti, with the ambassador declaring:
Come on, cheer up, let's all be comedians together. Take one of my cigars. Help yourself at the bar. My scotch is good. Perhaps even Papa Doc is a comedian. We mustn't complain too much about being comedians--its an honorable profession. If only we could be good ones, the world might gain a sense of style. We have failed--that's all. We are bad comedians but we aren't bad men.
Jones is shown to be a bluff & a fraud, someone whose life has been a series of pipe-dreams, just drifting from one failed scenario to the next but in time, near the novel's end via a confessional moment, a brotherhood seems to be established. Jones is enlisted in a plot to lead a small band of Haitians attempting to overthrow Duvalier, operating from a point near the border within the Dominican Republic, the adjacent 2/3 of the island of Hispaniola.

It seems a poor hand to be dealt for someone like Jones with no background in revolution or even in the military but there is a need to achieve something memorable, even if by losing one's life, causing Brown to say as they sit together in a cemetery awaiting fellow renegades to meet them, "I like you Jones!". The pair are comedians to the end it seems. As always for those who admire Graham Greene the prose is often poignantly expressive, a sample of which being the following dialogue:
I remember now. I used to think you were--nothing. I am nothing. Yes, but a Protestant nothing, not a Catholic nothing (said Jones to Brown). I had a sense of colored balls flying in the air, a different color for every faith--or even every lack of faith. There was an existentialist ball, a logical-positivist ball. I even thought that you might be a Communist nothing. It was fun just as long as with great agility one patted balls around: it was only when a ball fell to the ground one had the sense of an impersonal wound, like a dead dog on an arterial road.
The Haitian characters are memorable as well, including "Petit Pierre" a dapper journalist who somehow treads the unstable ground between appraising & reporting on visitors to Haiti and the Tonton Macoute, Dr. Magiot, a surgeon who is described as "very big & very black but possessed of great gentleness", Joseph who works as a factotum & last employee at Brown's hotel, being primarily in charge of mixing Rum Punches for the owner of the Trianon, even when there are no guests to tend to.

There is also a man named Philipot, a wizened Haitian longing to depose Papa Doc & kin to someone who commits suicide early on, having been driven to despair by the despotism of Duvalier. That said, this novel is largely driven by the actions of the European expatriates within Haiti but with considerable sensitivity for the Haitian inhabitants of a desperate country under a most repressive, dictatorial regime.

There is a kind of statement at novel's end that is provided by Dr. Magiot, a Communist, via a letter to Brown that is pure Graham Greene:
Communism my friend, is more than Marxism, just as Catholicism--remember that I was born a Catholic too--is more than the Roman Curia. There is a "mystique" as well as a "politique". We are humanists, you & I. Catholics & Communists have committed great crimes but at least they have not stood idly aside, like an established society & been indifferent. I would rather have blood on my hands than water like Pilate.

I implore you, the last request of a dying man for a knock on the door may come at any moment--if you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?
And at the conclusion, Brown says to Jones, "Why are you dying, Jones?" The response is: "It's my part old man; it's my part. But I've gotten this comic line--you should hear the whole theater laugh when I say it. The ladies in particular." Brown asks, "What is it?" Jones responds: "That's the trouble. I've forgotten it."

There are various biographies of Graham Greene, including a two volume one by Norman Sherry but the best commentary may be one from a 1996 New Yorker article by Michael Korda calling Graham Greene a "complicated, acerbic & contradictory man with a wry sense of humor and a schoolboy's taste for pranks & practical jokes, someone who loved making a mystery of his life and who kept the three different aspects of his identity--the writer, the public figure & the private man--separate & distinct." Korda declares that the Graham Greene he knew best was the author as "Third Man".

In 1978, following a conference in San Juan, I opted to take a flight to Haiti during the rule of "Baby Doc" Duvalier, staying at the Grand Hotel Oloffson (called the "Trianon" in the novel) in Port-au-Prince when it was run by a colorful figure named Alex Seitz and even encountering Aubelin Joli Coeur, the model for "Petit Pierre" in Greene's novel. At that point, I was aware of the lore of the Oloffson Hotel & the novel but hadn't yet gotten around to reading it.

Thus, it was a rather memorable opportunity not just to experience a place in the Caribbean that reminded me of my time in Africa but also involved an intersection with the world of Graham Greene. Rereading The Comedians surprised me in many ways, recreating a specific time & place in Haiti as well as in my own life but also bringing to bear many of the author's familiar themes, some of which I'd not really been conscious of when I first read the novel many years ago.

*Within my review are the images of the author Graham Greene; The Grand Hotel Oloffson; the "Tonton Macoute", Haitian secret police; former president Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, whose mantra was, "It is the destiny of the Haitian people to suffer"; & lastly, an example of the distinctive art of Haiti.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,374 reviews2,246 followers
November 6, 2022

If there is one thing I love about Graham Greene, it's the globetrotting nature that runs through his body of work. It seems like I've visited half the world already in the six novels I've read so far.
Whilst The Comedians is set predominantly in Haiti, it never really gets to the heart of the country when it comes to Papa Doc's rule and, more importantly, the effect on its people. Aside from a prostitute and a few beggars missing an arm or a leg, Haiti is never really delved deeply into; but then that's not Greene's main concern here. The primary characters of Brown, Smith & Jones are all foreigners for a start, and even Brown's adultery with the young wife of an Ambassador happens to be German. I came out of it not really knowing any more about Haiti, Papa Doc, and his Tontons Macoute that I didn't know already - which wasn't a lot. That's not to say I'm in any way disappointed by the novel, as I think it's one of Greene's best. The Likes of The End the Affair and The Quiet American maybe more widely known and read, but I think this is the better book.
It is more a psychological study of the hotelier Brown, who makes friends, and enemies, along with an interesting backstory of how he came to run his hotel, which Greene handles superbly well. He might not be that likeable, but I believe him to be one Greene's best created characters. The Comedians flirts with that of a thriller later on, with a tense drive through a storm as Brown tries to get Jones to safety after he is hunted by Tontons for being a suspected communist. There is humour - Jones dressing up as a woman to evade the Tontons being the one actual laugh, but the book still carries with it a serious tone. Most of all I'd describe it is an entertaining and stylish political drama, but one where the focus is on the foreigner rather than the core of Haiti itself.
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