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Graham Greene on The Comedians:

My first two visits to Haiti in the fifties had been happy enough. That was the time of President Magloire, there was extreme poverty, but there were many tourists and some of the money they brought was allowed to trickle down the social scale…I met Haitian poets and painters and novelists, and one man I like above all who was the model for Doctor Magiot in The Comedians, a novel I never dreamed then that I would come to write. He was a doctor and a philosopher—but not a Communist. For a time he had been Minister of Health, but he found his hands too tied, so he resigned (something which it would have been very dangerous to do under Doctor Duvalier)…He was a very big man and very black, of great dignity and with an old-world courtesy. He was to die in exile — more fortunately than Doctor Magiot? Who can tell? It was during that period I attended the Voodoo ceremony I describe in the novel.

…In my hotel, the Oloffson (I call the Trianon in The Comedians), there were three guests besides myself—the Italian manager of the casino and an old American artist and his wife — a gentle couple whom I cannot deny bore some resemblance to Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the novel. He wanted to teach the use of the silk screen to Haitian artists, so that they could earn a better living by selling reproductions of their paintings in the States…One night the three of us braved the dark to visit the brothel I have described as Mere Catherine's. There were no customers except a couple of Tontons Macoute. "Mr. Smith" began to draw the girls who had been dancing together decorously and decoratively, and the Tontons glared through their dark glasses at this strange spectacle of a fearless happiness and an innocence they couldn't understand.

The Comedians, I am glad to say, touched him [Papa Doc Duvalier] on the raw. He attacked it personally in an interview he gave in Le Matin, the paper he owned in Port-au-Prince — the only review I have ever received from a Chief of State. "Le livre n'est pas bien ecrit. Comme l'oeuvre d'un ecrivain et d'un journaliste, le livre n'a aucune valeur."

…for five long years after my visit his Ministry of Foreign Affairs published an elaborate and elegant brochure, illustrated on glossy paper, dealing with my case. A lot of research had gone into its preparation, with many quotations drawn from the introductions I had written for a French edition of my books. Printed in French and English and entitled "Graham Greene Demasque Finally Exposed," it included a rather biased sketch of my career. This expensive work was distributed to the Press through the Haitian embassies in Europe, but distribution cased abruptly when the President found the result was not the one he desired. "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.)

I am proud to have had Haitian friends who fought courageously in the mountains against Doctor Duvalier, but a writer is not so powerless as he usually feels, and a pen, as well as a silver bullet, can draw blood.

from Ways of Escape, pp.228-230, 232


Melody Yiu
Email me: greeneland -at- gmail . com

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