The power and the glory

by Graham Greene

Paper Book, 1990

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Viking, 1990.

Description

In a poor, remote section of southern Mexico, the Red Shirts have taken control, God has been outlawed, and the priests have been systematically hunted down and killed. Now, the last priest strives to overcome physical and moral cowardice in order to find redemption. 240 pp.

Media reviews

This is the story Greene was born to tell. With this novel, Greene brings all his considerable talent, craft, and gift for suspense to bear on a story that penetrates the heart of one tortured man’s mystery. For all its darkness and intensity, it’s a thrilling, page-turning read: the story is structured essentially as an extended chase across the barren landscape of Mexico—mirroring the even vaster desert spaces in the heart of the pursued Priest. Greene evokes the heat and dust and sweat of the country and its inhabitants with cinematic immediacy. The atmosphere is stifling, almost unbearably intense, and Greene’s capacity for storytelling invention never flags.

User reviews

LibraryThing member baswood
By the time The Power and the Glory was published in 1940, Greene had eschewed his flirtations with modernism and had turned back to writing in a clear narrative style, intent on creating memorable characters and tackling some of the most contentious issues of his generation. Perhaps the overriding theme here is the indomnitable human spirit. Europe was at war and for many people suffering and death were becoming a part of daily life. Greene takes an unnamed catholic priest as his anti-hero; a priest who gives in to most forms of temptation including the cardinal sin of Pride, and yet by the choices he makes and despite himself he achieves some sort of dignity and even redemption in our eyes. The novel is by no means a paean to the catholic church, in fact Greene is continuously critical of it and its ministers throughout, but he does suggest it offers hope in times of oppression.

Greene was commissioned to visit Mexico in 1938 to report on the religious persecution being enacted there and this provides the subject matter for the novel. A catholic priest is being hunted down by a fanatical lieutenant, who sincerely believes that the state will benefit by his elimination. Most of the priests have fled and so this last one (the whiskey priest) has become a bit of a cause celeb-re, who may or may not escape his fate if he makes it across the border.

Greene's visit to Mexico cannot have been a particularly enlightening experience for him because from the very first sentence the reader is plunged into a night mare world of filth, heat and deprivation:

"Mr Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust. A few vultures looked down from the roof with shabby indifference: he wasn't carrion yet".

This first part of the novel takes alienation as its theme. Mr Tench: a dentist has no money to leave the shabby port town. A gringo bank robber and murderer is on the loose. Padre Jose has been forced into marriage and a rebuttal of his catholic faith. Mr Fellows the plantation owner is trying to make a home of a land where his wife is made ill by the heat. In the villages the whiskey priest is finding it harder and harder to find shelter.

The second and by far the longest part of the novel deals with the priests ever more desperate attempts to keep body and soul together as he flees the red shirts. He has to offer a mass as a kind of bribe in the village where he has fathered a child. Greene fills in some of his background, he is not a good priest but no different from many; "an energetic priest was always known by his debts". He is befriended by an informer a sort of vampire figure with yellow fangs and provides him with many of his moments of self knowledge:

"No, if he had been humble like Padre Jose, he might be living in the capital now with Maria on a pension. This was pride devilish pride, lying here offering his shirt to the man who wanted to betray him. Even his attempts at escape had been half-hearted because of his pride-the sin by which the angels fell"

This section also contains some of Greene's most unforgettable scenarios: a night the priest spends in a filthy overcrowded cell, hiding his identity from the authorities but trusting his fellow prisoners with his true identity, leaving it to fate to save or condemn him, then the shameful fight with the broken backed dog for a meaty bone and finally his futile attempts to save the life of an Indian women's child.

Part three finds the priest safely across the border but the informer finds him and the priest is tempted back to certain death by the chance to save the soul of the fatally wounded gringo murderer. Here Greene superbly captures the cowardly priests dilemma. A chance for salvation a chance to be true to his faith, a real chance to make some difference. This leads to the most fascinating part of the novel where the Lieutenant and the priest come to accommodate each others views. Both think the other is basically a good man.

Part four steps back from the priest and we see the results of his actions through the eyes of the dentist Mr Tench.

I think this is an important novel of it's time that raises many issues concerning a persons struggle to make sense of his life. In this case it is a Catholic priest and so faith and the catholic church are high in Greene's scheme of things, however there is much to be enjoyed by any reader with an interest in the human condition. Greene is at the top of his game here bringing so much to the table for discussion. The book can be read and interpreted in a number of ways. My advice if you are at all interested in Graham Greene's novels is to make sure you read this one.
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LibraryThing member stevage
The only Greene I've read. This is the book that suddenly make me realise what "literature" is. Basically because I'm an uneducated ignoramus. I loved his descriptions, I felt the oppressive heat, I enjoyed the existential ennui. And I even sympathised with the protagonist, a priest — who would have thought that possible?
LibraryThing member figre
The first person we meet in this book is Mr. Trench, a dentist who appears to have trapped himself in this small Mexican town. We learn how he wound up here and, more importantly, we learn, in a relatively short time, his motivations as well as the character flaws which have got him caught in this rut. We are not told; we are shown. He turns out to be a supporting actor in this play – maybe no more than a bit part. And yet, he is real, he breathes, he is alive – so much so that I would have liked to have learned more about him, seen him as a central character.

Don't get me wrong; the fact that the novel does not revolve around Mr. Trench is not a problem. In fact, the book is full of these kinds of characters. At every turn there is someone equally interesting – real characters who grow in a real environment. And the result is a book which deserves its classic status.

As noted, the book is set in Mexico in an area where the socialist have taken control. Among the many changes, they have outlawed religion – effectively making it a crime punishable by death. In practicality, the success of this shut down is mixed – the people have not completely bought in to the idea. However, priests have the choice of rescinding their vows or being shot.

The main protagonist is Catholic priest on the run. He is unnamed, but often referred to as the "whiskey priest" because of how far he has fallen (including, obviously, alcoholism). All he wants is to live and to escape. However, his loyalty to his beliefs continues to draw him back in. That loyalty is best exemplified in the fact that one would think it would be quite easy for him to rescind his vows. However, no matter how far he has fallen he cannot do this. We follow him as he tries to escape and, through this journey, see his effect on other people (intended and unintended) and the effect on his own belief in himself. At its core, it is a book about how good exists within everyone, but that puts too trivial a homily on the complicated individuals contained herein.

Graham Greene spent time in the area – using his experiences in the area as research for the book. And it is evident because there is nothing that draws you out of the moment. His descriptions feel accurate. He has put the reader in a world few of us ever have experienced, but recognize the moment he describes it.

And, as noted the characters are real. Even the slightest of them refuse to be cut from cardboard, but are three-dimensional people who have motivations and lives we can glimpse. As I have indicated, any one of them is fleshed out sufficiently that you can see a separate novel being written about their lives.

Ultimately, we believe in the character of the "whisky priest" and we believe the tale that is told. And, in the process, we have been told a very good story which has depth, heart, and (an aspect so often missing in books considered classics) readability.
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LibraryThing member Petroglyph
I really liked this book. It was set in an epoch I was unfamiliar with -- Communist, religion-banning Mexico in the 1930s -- and its portrayal of a self-doubting whiskey priest on the run from zealous priest-hunters and his own demons alike was nothing short of enthralling.

What I’m sure I will remember most about this novel is just how very well written it was: Greene definitely has a way with words and images that makes his prose feel so absolutely right and impeccably assembled that no other words or images could really be acceptable substitutes.

This was my first Grahame Greene, but it will definitely not be my last.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
There's a cinematic opening scene here, with a dentist emerging onto a Mexican street causing a vulture to take flight which then soars over the town, and we get a literal bird-eye view of its layout as the dentist makes his way to the docks. I'd read Greene before, but immediately on page one I was reminded of how much a master he is. This novel is often cited as his best work, taking place during the persecution of the Catholic Church in southern Mexico during the 1920s. The idea of Christianty being persecuted to the extent depicted seemed so far-fetched, I was convinced Greene had made it up until I researched the Cristero War. While Greene doesn't name his setting, it is clearly the state of Tabasco under the governorship of Tomas Garrido Canabal. Canabal was an extremist, and while he did introduce women's suffrage and made improvements to Tabasco's education programs and economy, his legacy is deeply overshadowed by his persecution of Catholicism. It is not hard to see Canabal in the novel's figure of the Lieutenant. Similarly the protagonist, a runaway priest, might reflect the real life Padre Macario Fernandez Aquado who remained one step ahead of the authorities and death at their hands.

Graham Greene writes with enormous economy, and yet still manages to paint his scenes and characters so vividly. Nothing feels rushed or condensed, but in 200 pages he can transmit a very complex story and explore all the corners. Both 'power' and 'glory' call upon preservertion of the next generation as their highest value, seeking to 'save' them from evil. The priest is more pressed to examine his life and assumptions due to circumstances, and he is in the best position to learn from what he experiences assuming that he can survive them. The lieutenant is more free to indulge in might-makes-right and therefore less introspective as he justifies any extremity, but he faces incomprehensible stubborn resistance by the very people he is trying to help as he exorcises the menace of the church. Neither side seems to grasp, for the lack of either side making the appeal, that it is ultimately hearts and minds which will decide the victor.

One quirk I dislike about Greene's style is his penchant for suddenly introducing scene cuts to feature unidentified characters, leaving me foundering. It can take some flipping pages back and forth to figure out if these are new characters or familiar ones, and who was being referred to as whom. That frustration aside, reading more of Greene is always sure to be a pleasure whatever his subject.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
This is a hard one for me. I love Graham Greene, and have read many of his books and loved them all across genres. (He writes across so many genres!) I know this is considered his masterpiece, but the truth is I did not much enjoy the read. I generally love to wade around in physical, moral and religious decay. But this whiskey priest and his martyrdom did not move me. The prose and structure are, as one expects from Greene, spectacular. The man can write dialogue so authentic you feel like you are listening in on an actual conversation. No question this is a well crafted novel. I can't say why I did not connect with this, why I was never drawn in. Maybe it is that it felt like Greene really disliked all of his characters (including Mexico, which is definitely a character in this story.) All I can say is that I never felt drawn in to this story, I felt like I was sitting in the audience with Greene, and a safe distance from all the ugliness.… (more)
LibraryThing member sianpr
A classic Graham Greene- a tale of a whisky priest in Mexico at time when certain states had outlawed the church. Sharply observed descriptions of Mexico and poverty & quite engrossing tale.
LibraryThing member Sandydog1
Wow. As an ex-Catholic, an afficienado of 20th century Mexican history, a lover of wine (uhm, Brandy - not so much), I was enthralled with this book. It was at least as good as The Quiet American; perhaps it was even better. 'Chock full of guilt, humanity, sin, alcoholism, greed, lust, righteousness, ideology, betrayal, redemption, attempts at redemption, blind loyalty, harshness, innocence, suffering.… (more)
LibraryThing member grheault
Well, its Mexico. Chiapas, or therabouts. Its 1938, or thereabouts, and its dangerous to be a priest, and the main character is indeed a priest on the run. Deeply depressing book, but gripping, and graphic with that spaghetti western tone to it. Oddly reminiscent of Death Comes for the Archbishop, in focusing on the flawed, conflicted man-of-god, ministering to the people, in all the rote ways. The institutional Church is absent, except for the remnant priests, who are humiliated or hunted, and the continuing sacramental grip the ritual Church holds on the minds and hearts of older peasants. Greene draws out the the classic contradictions of the Church : its alliance with the rich, yet its message of the good of suffering and hope in the hereafter to the poor. He draws out the contradictions in the secular, revolutionary, anti-Church authorities who purport to ally with the poor, yet rob them of the rituals of religion and whatever consolations it might bring. Disturbing book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Mromano
The power and the glory is slow reading at first but it is one of those books that continues to mount surprises and suspense until you are left at the end with a feeling that you have completed a great work. Easily one of the top novels of the last 100 years and certainly Greene's best work. The fact that Greene did not win the nobel prize (while many lesser artists have) is a bitter reflection of the politics in the nominating and selection process.… (more)
LibraryThing member thornton37814
A priest who enjoys the sacramental wine a bit too much and a gringo who has robbed an American bank are being sought by police in Mexico during the time communists were in charge and Catholicism was outlawed. The priest accepts money from people for services such as hearing confessions or performing baptisms, but his love of strong drink is what causes the biggest problems for him. Anyone caught hiding the priest could also receive harsh treatment from officials. While Greene's writing is strong, I didn't really identify with the characters although they were well-drawn. A strong sense of place is also present in the novel. I'm certain there are layers to the story that I did not pick up in my quick read of the novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member mausergem
This novel was originally published in 1940. It tells the story of life in Southern Mexico where the communists ruled and Catholic religion was banned. The priests fled the country and some were prosecuted and later assassinated. The story revolves round a priest who decides not to leave the country but gradually falls into bad habits. He starts drinking and is called the "Whiskey Priest ". He leads a life in hiding and Is constantly on the run. As time passes his own grip on the religious duties fades. He is finally captured and killed.

This novel deals with the priest's struggle with the people prosecuting him as well his own struggle dealing with the gradual loss of faith and moral bindings. It would probably carry deeper meaning for a religious person but for me it was uninteresting. The pace is slow and the book goes nowhere. The language is beautiful.

A 2.5/5 read.
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LibraryThing member kvrfan
A great novel, wonderfully profound. I "read" it as an audio book, but there was so much to ponder here I believe I'll be taking up the written version to literally read it all over again.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
Graham Greene is always good for some entertainment, but here he has devised a very powerful story of the church and the state, and of the individual's weakness as strength. The quality of the writing is beyond reproach - the way characters are drawn and introduced made me think that it has become something of a lost art.
LibraryThing member Sean191
This was the longest Greene work I've read to date (still pretty short though) - unfortunately, I didn't like it as much as the others. It had its moments, but even though it was lengthier, I still thought the character development was a little thin. It won't deter me from reading his other works - I still feel it was a better novel than what I read from others, but it wasn't as enjoyable as previous works.… (more)
LibraryThing member kwohlrob
I'm always in awe of Graham Greene's writing. This book in particular just stuns me. There is a great portrait of Graham Greene in England's National Portrait Gallery. Greene is portrayed as being able to just peer through soul, seeing you for what you really are. Having seen that painting, I always think of his writing in that context -- Greene seeing us all for the horrible creatures we truly are. The Power and the Glory is a gritty and tough novel. It comes alive because of Greene's experiences traveling the world. It is never flowery or preachy, it just gives you a stark reality that is ugly and yet infinitely more compelling.… (more)
LibraryThing member ostrom
What a great novel, superb stylistic control, wonderful use of setting, a splendid, complexly flawed main character.
LibraryThing member tzelman
Travails of a whiskey priest in a country which has abolished God
LibraryThing member samatoha
The fable that brought Greene to the level of Dostoievski, in the attempt to solve the conflict between religious belief and doubt.
The novel works great both on the ideas explored by metaphors, and as a page-turning plot.
With some unforgetable,brilliant scenes, and pure prose, it does it's job even on the uttermost athaist readers.
Although the questions of morality and humanity were debated all over litreture history,and Greene doesnt add much of a new idea into it, no one cant argue with his masterfull skills as a writer.
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LibraryThing member WhatTheDickens
An intriguing book . . . an introspective treatment of human beings as they really exist .. . . warts and everything. The is a constant backdrop of the human struggle against life and death . . . one's mortality . . .and the existence of God. No answers but it causes one to think about the major unanswered dilemmas life has to offer us. Great read!… (more)
LibraryThing member otterley
Greene shifts his narratives of despair, redemption and moral truths and half truths from England to Mexico, locating man's struggle with faith in the soul of a whisky priest, apparently the last man standing for the faith in a corner of Mexico where the church is persecuted, priests forced to comply, marry or face the firing squad. Out of his essential weakness and corruption, the anonymous priest finds the essential truth of his Catholicism - that man is weak, life is pain and love is terrifying. Greene creates vivid characters, each of whom are stumbling unwittingly through moral crises and dilemnas by the very act of living. And at the end of the book, it all starts again. Greene says a lot about his religion here - a religion not of outward morality, but of inner experience of a truth that, however painful and apparently arbitrary, acts as a driving force in ordinary lives.… (more)
LibraryThing member hbergander
Controversial novel about the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. Greene deals with the topic in the congeniality of a writer as André Gide.
LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
A priest flees from the authorities (headed by "the lieutenant") who are trying to eradicate the Catholic church in a Mexican state. A story of redemption and the underlying good of humanity in the face of relentless oppression. A remarkable book for its style, its symbolism, and its near-perfect construction.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
A truly wondrous book! I have long wanted to read it, and finally bought it at 5 PM on Jan 29 and finished it a little after midnight on Jan 30. It was first published in 1940 and it is excellent. Graham Greene, even better, I am inclined to think, than his later books though not as pretentious. It is not as searching a book, it is more telling a story than exploring a theological problem. It tells of a priest hunted in Mexico. He is a "whiskey priest" and the father of a child. He is afraid, he is lax about the doing of his priestly duties. But he is humble, and though he fears his bad example has counteracted any good he does, he does the big things well--he returns to a dying man, though he knows he'll be captured, and he influences the rabid priest-hunting police officer. The book does not gloss over abuses that may exist in practices in the Church, and yet one feels this priest a glorious exemplar, despite his very human failings. The book was a penetrating illustration of the difference between conventional and unusual saintliness. All the usual Greene attitudes are here: the hierarchy of sins by conventional order seems out of place. i cannot but tend to agree with his emphasis. All in all, essily the finest book I have read in many months.… (more)
LibraryThing member charlie68
A deeply written book about a man's spiritual journey and his struggles with his conscience. Another classic by Mr. Greene. I love how he can convey a mood.

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