“Our Man In Havana” by Graham Greene

OurManInHavanaThis is a 1958 novel set in Havana, Cuba and which concerns the credulity of intelligence services with regard to reports from their local informants.  Wikipedia describes the novel as a black comedy and gives an outline of the plot:  James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner retailer, is approached by Hawthorne, who offers him work for the British secret service. With no real information to send to London, Wormold fakes his reports from newspaper reports and invents a fictitious network of agents. Then he decides to make his reports more exciting and starts to forward sketches of  secret military installation in the mountains – whereas in fact the illustrations are of vacuum cleaner parts!

Wikipedia notes that whilst the book predates the Cuban Missile Crisis,  certain aspects of the plot do appear to anticipate the events of 1962.

This was discussed by our classics group at their meeting of October 2015. The tersest of notes survive, to confirm that those present liked the book and scored it highly.

Bill couldn’t make the meeting but sent in some comments:

Greene knew a lot about espionage, and his humorous novel, Our Man In Havana paints a gently satirical portrait of the dangers and failures of misinformation. It occurred to me, as I read it, that some of the issues involved – the Cold War (see Cuban missile crisis), the secret service (see Cambridge 4/5 and especially Kim Philby), the Cuban Revolution (see the Granma yacht, and the Castro brothers) – were beyond many readers’ experience. My old philosophy lecturer, used to say that ‘Context is crucial’, and that is how we read.

 After taking account of two email votes, scores ranged from 5 to 10 and with an average score of 8.1 (based on 7 readers).

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