Format Hardcover
Publication Date 03/05/19
ISBN 9781643130187
Trim Size / Pages 9.3 x 6.4 in / 352

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Our Man Down in Havana

The Story Behind Graham Greene's Cold War Spy Novel

Christopher Hull

Exploring the backstory that led to the writing of Graham Greene's beloved satirical spy novel, Our Man Down in Havana evokes this pivotal time and place in the author's life.

When U.S. immigration authorities deported Graham Greene from Puerto Rico in 1954, the British author made an unplanned visit to Havana and discovered that “every vice was permissible and every trade possible” in a Caribbean fleshpot of mafia-run casinos and nude revues. The former MI6 officer had stumbled upon the ideal setting for a comic espionage story. Three years later, he returned in the midst of Fidel Castro’s guerrilla insurgency against a U.S.-backed dictator to begin writing his iconic novel Our Man in Havana. Twelve weeks after its publication, the Cuban Revolution triumphed in January 1959, soon transforming a capitalist playground into a communist stronghold.

Combining biography, history, and politics, Our Man Down in Havana investigates the real story behind Greene’s fictional one. This includes his many visits to a pleasure island that became a revolutionary island, turning his chance involvement into a political commitment. His Cuban novel describes an amateur agent who dupes his intelligence chiefs with invented reports about “concrete platforms and unidentifiable pieces of giant machinery.” With eerie prescience, Greene’s satirical tale had foretold the Cold War’s most perilous episode, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Exploiting a wealth of archival material and interviews with key protagonists, Our Man Down in Havana delves into the story behind and beyond the author’s prophetic Cuban tale, focusing on one slice of Greene’s manic life: a single novel and its complex history.

Christopher Hull, PhD, is Senior Lecturer in Spanish & Latin American Studies at the University of Chester. His research focuses on British interactions with Latin America. He first visited Cuba in 1997 and has traveled extensively around the island during seventeen further visits, often in the footsteps of Graham Greene. He lives in England.

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Endorsements & Reviews

“A lively and informative work. Hull wraps his literary, cinematic, and political history in a pocket-biography of Greene, tailored to set the author’s espionage story in context.” Wall Street Journal
“A focused and entertaining account of the making of Greene’s novel of espionage, Our Man in Havana. Hull’s book is a delicious companion to the tale Greene confected from the incompetence of spooks and an island in turmoil.” Economist
“Hull minutely examines the plot, characters, context, creation, reception, filming, and afterlife of Greene's 1958 satirical novel, Our Man in Havana. Drawing on Greene's published and unpublished writings; studies and biographies of Greene; abundant archival material; and his own 17 visits to Cuba, Hull sets Greene's life amid Cuba's tumultuous history. A biography notable for its deep research.” Kirkus Reviews
“Meticulously researched, impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented.” Midwest Book Review
“A completely fascinating book, immaculately researched, full of insight and telling detail. A revelation and a delight.” William Boyd, author of 'Any Human Heart' and 'Solo'
“It is the kind of obsessive book I like best—a full-body immersion into Greeneland.” The Spectator (UK)
“Richly detailed and packed with insight not just into the historical context of the novel and film, but also into the creative process itself.” Matthew Parker, author of 'Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born'
“‘Spying is eternal,’ opines George Smiley in one of John Le Carré’s thrillers. Fiction or not, he is right. While technical intelligence in today’s digital world floods agencies with too much intelligence, the need for ‘humint’—spies—remains as strong as ever. In the dirty, corrupt world of exploiting other human beings: traitors; idealists; or just plain greedy; reality offers a darker picture. Christopher Hull’s Our Man Down in Havana dissects Graham Greene’s classic satire on spies with forensic skill, exposing the rotten heart of the CIA's ‘wilderness of mirrors.' An excellent book for intelligence professionals and the general reader alike. Read it and ponder—sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.” Colonel John Hughes-Wilson, author of 'A Brief History of the Cold War' and 'The Secret State'