Tuesday, April 06, 2004

An antidote to Robert Ludlum, Ken Follet, John Le Carre

If you have been addicted to the above mentioned author's books (as I am), pick up "Our man in Havanna" by Graham Greene as an antidote.

It is a satirical take on the coldwar spy stories. The author doesn't rely on slapstick or gross parodies, instead he uses simple situations to depict the absurd world of spies and their handlers.

The story is set in Cuba in 1950s. Mr. Wormold is a Vacuum cleaner dealer in Havanna and an Englishman. His wife has left him longtime back and he brings up his daughter as a catholic, though he himself is an atheist. His daughter is seventeen at the time of the story and is starting to acquire expensive things like a horse and membership into the country club.

One day Mr. Wormold is visited by a British Secret Service agent Hawthorne, who recruits the bewildered hero as his agent in Cuba. Wormold is completely flustered and not knowing what to do, he uses this opportunity to invent fictional subagents and write their expense slips. To satisfy his handlers in Britain, he sends them distorted data taken from Government records and Vanity fair. He even sends enlarged drawings of a vacuum cleaner as the weapons data of Cubans. His bosses are impressed and send him additional staff. At this point all his predictions start coming true. Is someone else barging into his imaginative stories.

It is a witty spoof. For example the way Mr. Wormold is recruited in a lavatory or the scene where he send the vacuum cleaner drawings to Head Office. Though his recruiter identifies it as a vacuum cleaner, he still goes along with the charade to make him look good. Reminds one of the happenings in Bush White House.

Highly recommended

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