A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August 2001/September 2001

Books In Review

Loving Graham Greene

By Gloria Emerson

Reviewed by William F. Crandell

In a tapestry of made-up minds, honest reporters live at risk. Gloria Emerson was such a reporter in Vietnam and in Gaza. She pays affectionate tribute to perhaps the greatest thriller writer in Loving Graham Greene by sending quirky heiress Molly Benson, the female protagonist Greene never created, to a doomed Algeria in order to hire bodyguards for honest journalists.

Like many Greene characters, Benson is a decent person in over her head in an evil world, whose good works ultimately do harm. Emersonís reporterís eye and ear won Winners and Losers the National Book Award with telling details such as the GI who looked in a mirror and said, "I had no idea who that was." (Any short list of mandatory books on the Vietnam War and its veterans should include Winners and Losers.

Emersonís writing skills turn a clever conceit into a brilliant novel. The determined Molly Benson and her companions are richly drawn characters in a sparse world of countervailing menaces, the police state versus Islamic fundamentalism. Molly adores the sardonic writing of Graham Greene, has met and corresponded with him, and uses him as her yardstick. Her character was shaped in opposing the Vietnam War. All her perceptions of the nature of war, power, and men are colored by that warís dark stains.

Mollyís an ironic, irritating heroine--a tall, middle-aged, ferociously liberal woman. She knows every book Greene ever wrote, down to the names of the dogs, met him once by chance, pestered him with letters, and undertakes her mission to carry on his spirit.

Her devotion to the British writer makes this an intelligent novel as well as an exciting read, and a first-rate introduction and critique for Grahamís work to the uninitiated. Algeriaís civil war in the shadows tightens its noose as the innocents look for ways to save the outspoken. The authorities want to deny there is a struggle the police state is losing, and the Islamic fundamentalists cannot tolerate any reporting that is not their own version of events. Thus, the honest reporters Molly seeks to protect are at risk because they tell the truth in a setting where that is heroic.

The naive, half-informed Pyle in Greeneís The Quiet American was "impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance." Unlike the quiet Pyle in a French Indo-China that is slipping away, Emersonís noisy Benson has a capacity to understand there is a great deal she doesn't understand.

Emerson wrote Loving Graham Greene with a scalpel dipped in ink, every detail as perfect as the story and characters. This funny, literate thriller is a tribute to the power of the word to inspire action in the face of despair.

   

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