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Our Man in Havana

Our Man in Havana, The End of the Affair

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography

a novel by Graham Greene, published in 1958, described by its author as ‘a Secret Service comedy’ and drawing on his experience of intelligence work in Sierra Leone and London during and after the Second World War. Tracing ‘the absurdities of the Cold War’ through louche, decadent Havana, shortly before Fidel Castro's revolution ended Batista's rule, the novel shows a British agent, Hawthorne, recruiting a local vacuum-cleaner salesman, Wormold. His pious but profligate daughter, general shortage of money, and extravagance of imagination drive Wormold to create a complex world of plots and sub-agents to satisfy his London paymasters, Hawthorne proving too embarrassed to suggest to them that drawings of supposed installations in the Cuban hills actually represent muchenlarged vacuum-cleaner parts. Though Wormold's scheme is inevitably discovered in the end, he is allowed to escape—despite the attention of the sinister local police chief, Captain Segura, and his murder of a rival agent—into a romantic second marriage with his new secretary, who shares his beliefs that ‘kingdoms, republics, powers’ matter less than individual loyalties.

Greene later regretted minimizing the terrors of Batista's Cuba to gain lightness of effect, though Our Man in Havana also has a serious side. Greene uses Wormold's fabrication of plots and agents—and the way they alarmingly seem to come alive—to resume some of the questions about the relation of fiction and reality which he first raised seriously in The End of the Affair (1951). Such questions were strangely extended in another way by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, initiated by the discovery of installations not unlike those Wormold invents. Even with experience of the Secret Service, Greene could scarcely have guessed how prescient—as well as summary—of the deepening anxieties of the Cold War and the Atomic Age this comedy about fiction, espionage, and the absurdities of world politics would prove.

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