Orient Express, by Graham Greene

Orient ExpressOrient Express by Graham Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Doesn’t show its age well, but you probably expected that.

Really, what I meant to say was it has within its covers a full dose of anti-semitism, which you did not need me to tell you, I am sure. One of the central characters on Mr. Greene’s express train, which is itself stocked with giddy caricatures and stereotypes, is a Jewish businessman named Carleton Myatt. When Mr. Myatt’s swarthy features aren’t being contemplated by Mr. Greene, his business acumen is.

The edition I read has an introduction by Christopher Hitchens, who spends about two pages and a bit wrestling with whether to apologize for Mr. Greene (on behalf of wig-wearing, tea-suckers everywhere), or just wash his hands of the whole affair. In the end, he trusts “the reader to decide,” but then juts his wine-soaked backside into something like an apology. He explains away one bemusing, paragraph-long passage — “Forty years in the wilderness…” — by shrugging his shoulders: “Whatever this is, it is not anti-Jewish.”

But in fact one needs only read a few pages in either direction to get the “anti-Jewish” all over oneself, for instance the conjuring of the “ancestral marketplace” (Page 141) as Mr. Myatt bargains with a fiddle player.

This is no laughing matter, I know. But what can you do? Orient Express was published in 1932, and Mr. Greene wasn’t exactly known as a closet Jewophile. Read enough and you find Mr. Greene’s ignorant kindred spirits on lots of shelves. Maybe a reader can learn something, be a better person? Perhaps seeing the caricatures brings the reality into sharper focus?

At the least, this served as an ample reminder that Mr. Hitchens could be an ass once in a while.

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And the Lord said, Don’t be a pig.


Among these old arguments is the novel idea of eating less than what fills one’s belly. The Talmud teaches that people should eat enough to fill a third of their stomachs, drink enough to fill another third, and leave a third empty. A hadith in the Islamic tradition also teaches this. Rashi, a medieval French rabbi, interpreted the Talmud to mean that the final empty third is necessary so that the body can metabolize emotions. If one ate until one’s belly was completely full, there’d be no room left to manage one’s emotions and one would burst asunder.

via The Talmud and Other Diet Books – NYTimes.com.