Some background info on the novel:
- Published in 1966, and set in a politically charged Haiti with warring factions, a cruel secret police force, curfews, and an economy going to the dogs
- Basic storyline: Brown (the lonely owner of a hotel in Haiti), Smith (a vegetarian idealist who once ran for the US presidency), and Jones (a shady British former soldier, in some unclear trouble with the law) meet on a ship to Haiti, and all observe Haiti gradually sink into degeneration and despair. Kind of goes against the title, right?
- Greene did not fictionalize the antagonistic government of Haiti at the time – Duvalier (or “Papa Doc”) was an actual person, and served as president from 1957 until his death in 1971. Papa Doc’s platform was black nationalism and voodoo, and he ruled with the aid of a militia known as the “Tonton Macoute”, which helped the repressive regime to kill and exile thousands of Haitians. When The Comedians was published, Duvalier banned Greene from Haiti for life and bashed him in the media.
In high school I once picked a summer reading book for history class that discussed King Leopold’s rape of the Congo. At the time, I remember thinking, “how have I never heard about this, when millions of people died?” While this book’s crimes were not on the same scale, I can’t help but feel the same way – how much happens in the world that the Western, educated, first-world doesn’t even have a clue about? Something to consider.
Who would I recommend this book to?
I would recommend The Comedians to a thoughtful reader of literature looking for a suggestion for what to read next.