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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