“Life is lived forward, but understood backward” Soren Kierkegaard.
I have started The Power and the Glory, the book Updike called Greene’s masterpiece. After seventy pages I am not disappointed, but at some point in my reading I come to a peculiar realization; I am reading Greene in reverse.I never read Graham Greene in college, which now seems very unusual as he is held out as one of the greatest 20th century novelists. After grad school I picked up The Ugly American at a used bookstore and became acquainted with what had been termed a rabid anti-Americanism. As someone whose life was influenced more by southeast Asia than other Americans, it seemed a sensible choice though it did not stick with me.Other than occasional gleanings, I did not pick up Greene for nearly twenty years when I read The End of the Affair, the last of his “Catholic novels,” the book Alex Preston called “the book of a lifetime.” His sentiment was not a judgment on placing this work above others, but in saying it was Greene’s most personal work and the only writing he did in the first person.It was only appropriate to read The End of the Affair next as it is what biographer Norman Sherry makes out to be based on one of the great pivot points of Greene’s life. If Greene, in living his life forward, used this episode to become a different kind of person, then the historian in me should enjoy reading of this episode backward to come to the person he was.
Now I have come backward to a different Graham Greene to find myself not in cold London, wrapped in warm sheets and with a jealous God facing off with a jealous man, but in warm Mexico with its cold governance and a loving God who is using the anything but jealous man (in fact a broken man) to do His will. I know a little of The Power and the Glory already, but the characters, quick moving action, and the geography of faith and hate I am only now discovering, but I do know they will lead me to a man, who even with his shattered life, can succumb to the cause of that which is larger than himself rather than tell that One “to go away and leave me alone forever.” This, being the case, should make it worthwhile to read Greene in reverse.