November 21, 2012

Book: Honorary Consul by Graham Greene

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:24 am

An interesting story set in South America in a small town in Argentina, across the river from Paraguay. In a small town (does he even name the town, ever? I forget) it revolves around the characters of Doctor Plarr, a young doctor of English origin who practices medicine so far away because his mother is  (and hence his first name, Eduardo) and his father is a revolutionary of English origin, captured by Paraguay government after he walked away leaving his son and wife to join an insurgency on behalf of the poor people. His mother is completely heartbroken, weeps constantly for years, and finally settles down to a diet of sweets exclusively, letting herself go and nagging Eduardo constantly whenever he meets her (- which he does very infrequently).

Eduardo is also influenced by idealism enough to settle down in a poor little town and serve the poor instead of moving to a bigger town like Buneos Aires (cutely called B.A. several times in the book) and making money.

There is also Sir Humphries, a cantankerous British old man and the entire English population of the city is completed by Charley Fortnum who is the eponymous Honorary Consul mentioned in the book.

Charley is a divorced and bitter man, a heavy drinker, and using his Consul position, (though not paid any salary), he imports cars once every two years from England legally and sells them to make money.

The only restaurant in town that seem to exist is a Hungarian one favoured by Humphries, which serves a sort on an awful Goulash all the time.

In the midst of this quiet scene enter the `revolutionaries’ who plot against the government of Argentina to fight for the poor people’s liberation. They all answer to the elusive leader who calls himself El Tigre. Two of the revolutionaries were class mates of Eduardo, and they come to meet him one day. Aquino is a poet, and was caught in Paraguay, and tortured, losing many of his fingers in the torture, before escaping from captivity. Leon was a robed Catholic priest, who left the Church disillusioned by its association with the cruel General, the dictator of Paraguay, and joined the rebels. He has even chosen a girl from the slums, Maria, and married her. They come to enlist his help in finding out the whereabouts of the US Ambassador, who is scheduled to visit Argentina. The plan is to kidnap the Ambassador and ask for the release of 12 prisoners in Paraguay, including Eduardo’s father, whom they have met in the Paraguay prison.

With the details given by Dr Plarr, they kidnap the ambassador, only to realize that by mistake, they have got Fortnum, the Honorary Consul, who had accompanied the Ambassador. They try to keep him in a hut and in secret, Plarr helps tend to him to ensure that he is in good health.

In the meanwhile, Charley has remarried, and though the whole town knows it, tries to hide the fact that his new, young, wife Clara, is a girl from Mama Sanchez’s, the local brothel where he met her.

Dr Plarr ended up having an affair with her, and also made her pregnant, and Charley thinks that it is his baby that Clara is carrying.

After the kidnapping, Dr Plarr is requested to visit the place when Charley is shot in the leg trying to escape and when he goes to attend to him, is also retained as a hostage.

The government finds their hideout and surrounds the hut. The police chief Perez has given them until 8 AM the next day to send the Consul unharmed out or else face certain death….

This is not a thriller. It explores the human angle and makes for an interesting reading. Dr Saavedra, the impeccably and richly dressed world famous novelist found to live in poverty in private; his one protégé turning against him and calling his work trash; Leon, the priest’s conflict in his beliefs of God and of the need to kill the Consul if the government does not give into his demands. His lying about Eduardo’s father, who was killed even before they came to him, trying to escape with Aquino.; the dichotomy of Clara, a call girl, falling for Dr Plarr as well as having tender feelings towards Charley, who rescued her from a life in the brother.

Dr Plarr struggling to avoid recognizing even the word `love’ from anyone else; his conflicting emotions about his father…

A well told story, worth a read. Makes you thoughtful for a long while after you have finished the book.

I would say a 7/10

— Krishna


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