Reader's Choice

The new novel by GRAHAM GREENE—the most bizarre of his works and one of the most memorable — is the outcome of what seems a surprising and gruesome journey for a novelist: a tour of the léproseries maintained by the Catholic missions in Equatorial Africa. A BURNT-OUT CASE (Viking, $3.95), a Book-of-the-Month Club Selection, is described by Greene as “an attempt to give dramatic expression to various types of belief, hall-belief and non-belief in the kind of setting . . . where such differences are felt acutely and find expression.”Greene has told us in autobiographical writings that Africa has always represented to him “a strangeness, a wanting to know,” and certainly a sense of strangeness and of being in search of answers is hauntingly present in the novel’s atmosphere and plot.
At the story’s opening, a man named Querry has traveled up a tributary of the Congo to the point where the river and the road end, and here he stays as the guest of a léproserie run by Belgian priests and nuns. For some time all we know about him is that he is a refugee from the world, seeking oblivion. And after we have learned that he was once a famous Catholic architect, Querry, whose very name stands for a question, still remains a mystery. He has lost all capacity for feeling, desire, and belief: he has even “come to the end” of suffering. The mission’s doctor compares him to one of those lepers known as a burnt-out case: a leper who, treated too late, cannot be cured until the disease has run its full course of mutilation.
One evening Querry discovers that the servant assigned to him, a burnt-out case, has hobbled far into the forest and has had an accident. The night that Querry spends beside the helpless man leaves him with “the odd sensation that [someone] needed me.” Thereafter signs appear — he lets himself be persuaded to design and build a hospital for the mission — that he may be emerging from his emotional and spiritual deadness. Thus, two questions weave a pattern of psychological suspense into the fabric of the novel: what was the source of Querry’s all-encompassing aridity, and will he recover from it? To say much more about the plot would spoil things for the prospective reader. But just this can be added: of the several meanings that can be read into Querry’s story, one, surely, is that it is an allegory of the journey that carries man toward a genuine awareness of God.
Greene’s triumph is that he manages to make the reader care about a hero who is himself past caring and in whose attitude there is a certain self-conscious sulkiness toward life. Around Querry there are several well-realized characterizations: the irreligious doctor, whose toughminded dedication to healing is rooted in love (“I think of Christ as an amoeba who took the right turning”); the pompous Catholic factory manager, a monster of Pharisaical piety; and the shy, tolerant Superior, with his ever-present cheroot, one of the few priests in Greene’s work who is both good and truly sympathetic. Although the tempo is slower than is customary for Greene and there is less than the usual density of incident, A BurntOut Case is an absorbing book and a curiously affecting one. The spells of a major novelist take possession of the reader.


Before his death in a motor accident fourteen months ago, ALBERT CAMUS had selected, out of three volumes of his topical writings, the twenty-three essays he considered most worthy of preservation in English, and they are now published under the title RESISTANCE, REBELLION, AND DEATH (Knopf, $4.00). Beginning with editorials which appeared anonymously in a famous paper of the French Resistance, the book, translated by Justin O’Brien, covers a span of fifteen years. It includes wartime “Letters to a German Friend” (who had become a Nazi); four statements on the Algerian tragedy; a powerful essay calling for the abolition of capital punishment; and pieces dealing with Spain, the Hungarian revolt, and the role of the contemporary artist.
Even in his most topical journalism, Camus’s thought transcends topicality and focuses on the perennial moral conflict between the forces of fanaticism and terror and what he calls “the forces of dialogue”
moderation, ordinary human decency, the sense of brotherhood, and intellectual honesty. In Camus’s hands, these familiar concepts of humanism are rescued from perverted usage, scraped clean of cant, and inspiringly recharged with meaning. If his message has a stirring resonance, it is because he speaks not as a moralist proclaiming traditional truths from above the fray but as a man of his time who has been deeply involved in the factionalism, the violence, the nihilism of the age.
“I have always thought,” Camus wrote, “there were two kinds of intelligence — intelligent intelligence and stupid intelligence.”By “stupid intelligence” he means the “doublethink" and sophistry to which good minds have committed themselves out of unbridled partisanship or squalid expediency. With compelling eloquence and a piercing lucidity, these essays assert that torture in Algeria cannot be excused as a necessary response to terrorism; that Arab terrorism, which murders Arab women and children, cannot be justified as a reaction to colonialism; that it is rank dishonesty to condemn dictatorship in Prague and not in Madrid ; that when neutralist leaders like Nehru condoned by their silence the massacre of Hungarian freedom fighters, they betrayed their own struggle for freedom; that the fellow-traveling existentialists who expound a philosophy of liberty and yet applaud the suppression ol liberty in the name of revolutionary progress are simply cheats and preachers of enslavement. Camus is passionately on the side of that “half truth” represented by the West, because liberty is “the supreme good" —“we are the only ones to have the possibility of improvement and emancipation that lies in free genius.” But he equally passionately insists that we betray that possibility when we fail to condemn injustice, exploitation, the reign of terror wherever we see them. He invites us to be “on the side of victims” everywhere; to “pay attention to what unites us rather than to what separates us”; and to loathe “none but executioners.”
For American readers who know Camus mainly through his often enigmatic fiction, this collection is an opportunity to enter directly into the thought of a man who, in the words of his Nobel Prize citation, illuminated “the problems of the human conscience in our time.” Camus was one of those rare writers in whom nobility spoke with modesty, with total genuineness, and with unfailing lucidity.


MIDCENTURY (Houghton Mifflin, $5.95), a large book by JOHN DOS PASSOS, juxtaposes fact and fiction in a chronicle of contemporary America which ranges through the world of labor. “Documentaries” and impressionistic biographies are interspersed between episodes that form several separate but sometimes related novellas; and there is another fictional ingredient - the notes of an investigator for a congressional committee studying crime and abuses in the labor unions. The documentaries, which are similar to the “Newsreels” of Dos Passos’ early trilogy U.S.A., seek to render, factually, the flavor of the times. The subjects of the biographies include Douglas MacArthur, Sam Goldwyn, Senator McClellan, Robert Oppenheimer, James Dean, and a covey of labor leaders — Bridges, Reuther, Tobin, Beck, Hoffa.
In Midcentury, Dos Passos has a theme rich in possibilities for a disillusioned radical like himself—the early idealism of the labor movement and the transformation of this movement, by power-hungry and often corrupt leaders, into a kind of totalitarian state within the state. But the book is disappointing. A week after reading it, I had only a hazy recollection of the people and events in it; and my memory, however unsatisfactory, is not entirely to blame. Dos Passos seems to have lost interest in the creative process itself. Things are not represented, not made vivid; they are merely stated, and they are stated in a hurry, as though the author were intent only on spilling out the facts.
One of the novellas is the story of a decent rubber worker, strong for the union, who is framed by gangster union officials for not playing their game and is discharged as a troublemaker. Other fictional sections describe how businessmen with vision and guts become locked in combat with the spirit of the time — in one case, with unimaginative partners in management who want to play it safe; in the other, with a competitor who has teamed up with a labor racketeer to maintain his taxi-cab monopoly by strong-arm methods. Significantly, the best story, that of Blackie Bowman, former seaman, wobbly, and “philosophical anarchist,” reaches back to the period of U.S.A. Society as it exists today arouses in Dos Passos mainly a diffuse aversion quite lacking in the rebellious passion that energized his early work. On the affirmative side, he treats us to dreary ecstasies over a new process in milling, and he tries to celebrate the spirit of free enterprise. But to assert individual values you have to create characters with a strong subjective reality; and Dos Passos’ people have always been two-dimensional; they have a curious nonexistence. The genius of U.S.A. lay in its original and dynamic portrayal of a collective entity.
Literary values aside, Midcentury has considerable force and urgency in that it focuses on a very real evil. Dos Passos has documented, on a panoramic scale and in irresistibly convincing detail, the rottenness within the house of labor.


I WALKED WITH HEROES (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $5.00), the autobiography of GENERAL CARLOS P. ROMULO, is the story of a man who, though he has been through anguishing experiences, has enjoyed an exceptionally happy life. Romulo was happy in his childhood, his marriage, and his remarkable career as teacher, newspaperman, soldier, diplomat, statesman, lecturer, and author. As “the petted . . . small member of a large, affectionate family,” he grew up with a sense of security that helped to endow him with boundless energy, a faith that justice will prevail, and a disposition to believe that human nature is fundamentally good. (He was able to find a glimmer of humanity even in the terrible Vishinsky — a love of La Bohème and South Pacific.) From boyhood on, Romulo’s ruling passion was to see his country independent and respected. And bound up with his patriotism was a profound resentment of racial snobbery, which, he feels, has done far more than Americans realize to tarnish the image of the United States in Asia. At sixteen Romulo star
At sixteen Romulo was a star reporter, at twenty an editor, and in his middle thirties he became editor in chief of a chain of publications. He threw this position over to work with his political hero, Manuel Quezon; and during the war he was Mac Arthur’s aide-de-camp on Corregidor and later a member of Quezon’s war cabinet in Washington. He would almost certainly have become President of the Philippines in due course, had he accepted an offer from both parties to run for Vice President in the post-war elections. Instead, he chose to work for his country, which achieved its independence in 1946, in the international sphere. He has been chief of the Philippine Mission to the United Nations, President of the Fourth General Assembly of the UN, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and three times Ambassador to the United States.
Romulo writes in some detail about his relationship with Quezon and other Philippine Presidents, his struggles on behalf of his country in Washington, and his work at the UN. Even so, his book’s contribution to the annals of history is a relatively modest one. It is clearly the hand of the former newspaperman that has shaped the general’s lively, sentimental, and sometimes sententious personal history. Its strongest appeal is in the realm of human interest, in the personality of its subject. And in spite of an addiction to quoting the innumerable tributes paid to him, General Romulo emerges as a generous-spirited and attractive human being.


THE MAN-EATER OF MALGUDI (Viking, $3.95) is the tenth novel published in this country by R. K. NARAYAN, who has often been described as India’s best living novelist. Mr. Narayan returns us to his customary setting, an imaginary town in South India; and his story, written with a subtle sense of the tragicomic, is touching, funny, and surprising. It describes the ordeal to which the gentle printer Nataraj is subjected by a newcomer to Malgudi — H. Vasu, M.A., taxidermist. This Vasu, who was once a professional strong man, turns out to be a fearsome bully, who recognizes no restraints of man or God. Having installed himself, uninvited, in the printer’s attic, the terrible taxidermist fills it up with carcasses which stink up the neighborhood; he brazenly violates the game laws and hunts down even the local pets; he brings prostitutes up the printer’s stairs; and finally he defies anyone to stop him from shooting a beloved temple elephant.
In the suspenseful denouement, a just fate destroys the demonic Vasu in a piercingly ironic fashion. Meanwhile. the author has brought fully to life the small world of Malgudi, its people, its talk, its customs; and in it one sees sharply reflected one of the several faces of India. Narayan is a writer of great individuality and captivating charm. Once again, he has achieved a small-scale triumph.
MENNA GALLIE, a Welsh writer now publishing her second novel, MAN‘S DESIRING (Harper, $3.50), has chosen a protagonist and a setting which threaten to become the fish and chips of the younger generation of British novelists: her hero, Griff (Griffydd) Rowlands, is a young man of working-class origin who has worked his way up to an appointment as instructor at an English provincial university. When I add that this hero revels in his sentimentalism about things Welsh, is fiercely loyal to his proletarian background, often feels homesick and sorry for himself, but finds comfort in a slice of “mam’s” fruitcake, it must be clear that Miss Gallie has set herself the daunting task of making art out of treacle. And miraculously, she has succeeded. Her book is funny and gay and moving and fresh, and almost always irresistibly true. What saves the situation is, simply, that Miss Gallie has a lovely talent. She writes with a mixture of ease, humor, feeling, and authenticity which suggests that she is a born novelist. Oddly enough, the one figure in her story who struck me as slightly unconvincing was a woman
the smart, intellectually sophisticated, bitchy lecturer in English with whom Griff becomes involved.
The chief interest of THE MISFITS (Viking, $3.95) by ARTHUR MILLER is that it represents a new kind of fiction, the “cinema-novel.” It is more novelistic than a screenplay, but it is written in the present tense; it tells us what the camera would see and what the actors would seek to show (“We notice the slightest flicker in Gay, an awareness that he has been placed slightly to one side”); and the characters speak to us directly, as in the script of a play. The experiment proves, I’m afraid, that for a narrative in prose the conventional novel is a vastly more effective form than the “cinemanovel" in every respect, including the ability to make things visual.
Mr. Miller’s setting is Reno and the country around it, and as his title indicates, the story has to do with people who are more or less “misfits"-a luscious young divorcée and three free-lance cowboys. I am not quite sure whether the form put me off unduly or whether Mr. Miller’s story and people are inherently not very interesting. In any event, though the proceedings grow exceedingly hot, they left this particular reader cold.


HERBERT LOBSENZ may never have read a line by Saul Bellow, but his Harper Prize Novel, VANGEL GRIFFIN (Harper, $4.50), reminds one in theme and tone of Henderson The Rain King. Its hero, “a massproduced member of the middle middle-class,”with an appropriate job and an appropriate wife, decides at twenty-nine that his life is absurd and gives himself a year in Madrid to discover a reason for living. He enrolls in the university, and there he becomes harrowingly involved with a contemporary Don Quixote, dedicated to starting “a chain reaction of reason” that will sweep the world; and with this idealist’s sister, a volcanic amoureuse, who promptly drags the hesitant American into her bed. Spanish politics and love-making prove an appalling but effective shock treatment; we are asked to believe that they jolt Vangel out of his indifference and make a masculine man of him.
This picaresque chronicle is an uneven work. It contains some fine comic stuff and passages which have a wild, zany quality. But the changes of tone and mood are disconcerting, false notes are struck, and one feels a basic confusion of purpose.