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Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Power and the Glory

The Power and the Glory

by Graham Greene

(5/5 stars)

At a time when there's an abundance of people strapping explosives to themselves to become "martyrs" Graham Greene's 1940 novel has relevance now more than ever. Indeed "The Power and the Glory" is an intimate, uncompromising portrait of another "martyr."

This is the story of an unnamed priest also known as "the whiskey priest" because of his reputation for drinking brandy and violating other Church rules. At one time the priest had a successful parish and lived in luxury; now he's on the run after a socialist revolution has declared religion illegal. Traveling from one place to another, trying to stay a step ahead of the authorities, the priest loses not just all his material goods but his soul as well until he longs for an end. Still he keeps going for reasons not even he understands until like Jesus Christ he knowingly follows Judas to meet his destiny.

The sad irony is that while the priest views himself as a lost soul, he touches many lives through the course of the novel. To people like Mr. Tench the English dentist marooned in Mexico, young Coral Fellows, or the unnamed boy, the priest is a hero and a martyr. His persistence and sacrifices to outside eyes are worthy of many saints. Only the reader and the priest himself can see inside to see that he is at heart a coward and a sinner--an ordinary man.

That disparity is what gives "The Power and the Glory" its power and glory. Greene keenly understood that those we view as heroes and even those we view as villains--like the lieutenant tracking the priest, the "half-caste" Judas who betrays him, or even "the gringo" American bank robber--are ordinary, flawed people. That's the kind of understanding we could use more of in today's world.

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