Now that I have read all of Graham Greene's novels, I am reduced to reading books about the author and his books, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Julia Llewellyn Smith's book Travels Without My Aunt: In the Footsteps of Graham Greene (2000) is satisfying on two levels: it does a good job of summing up the settings of Greeneland novels and the state they were in circa the late 1990s as well as illuminating the the sources and inspirations for said novels. I like how she interweaves the history and recent political highlights to give a background to her journeys as well. Greene's memoir Ways Of Escape is frequently referred to as Smith recounts Greene's inspirations. Smith begins with an introduction set in Brighton, the site of Greene's first really successful novel commercially and critically. Smith is English, so it is fitting that her book begins and ends in England even though it is about the far flung unstable locales that Greene was drawn to and wrote about.
The first section is set in Mexico and specifically Chiapas where he travelled following the antic clerical campaign that was taking place. This trip would be the inspiration for two books, arguably he greatest novel, The Power and the Glory and his fascinating travel book, The Lawless Roads. I was surprised and amused to find that Greene has so detested Mexico. Of the tow I had most recently read The Lawless Roads, which I remember mostly for elegant prose descriptions of the arid and barren countryside as well as his musings on religion and life of priests among these people. Somehow I missed the venomous declarations of the place and people that Smith constantly brought out in this section. I feel as though I ought to re-read it. Perhaps for my next Mexico visit. I got the feeling that Smith also didn't have such a liking for the country either.
Surprisingly, the chaotic and decrepit African location, Sierra Leone, the setting for the first Graham Greene novel I read The Heart of the Matter, was one of Smith's favorite places. In the late 90s it was torn apart with civil war (1991-2002) with rebels with a child army committing unspeakable atrocities as the infrastructure of the county continued to erode. Smith explains this due to the beauty of the country and the nature of its inhabitants who can always find something to smile about. It was and remains one of the poorest and un-developed countries in the world topping most lists of infant mortality and shortest life spans, while having among the lowest income per capita in the world, 70% of the population lives in poverty. Smith has almost convinced me that I need to visit it.
The third section is concerned with a country that I have been to fours times and first visited about the same time as Smith (1999-2000), Vietnam. Again, Smith has found much to like about this location for one of my favorite Greene novels, The Quiet American. She didn't seems as impressed with Hanoi as I had been, but I travelled there much later. However, I can attest to the charm that Vietnam exuded before the China-like liberalization of the economy that has so changed present day Vietnam. It is curious that Greene has a thing against the American government throughout his life and that attitude was probably born through his observations in Vietnam in the 50s.
In between England and America lies the Caribbean that would be the setting for several novels and in sections three and four Smith visits Cuba and Haiti. In regards to Cuba, Smith makes the same assessment of the beleaguered communist country and capital city of Havana of Fidel Castro as that of Greene's hero of Our Man in Havana, Wormold that it was a "city to visit , not a city to live." This novel was another favorite that was co-opted into another fine book with homage by John LeCarre with The Tailor of Panama. Haiti, the setting of The Comediennes, is another place that Smith cam ot love despite the wretchedness of the quality of life of the inhabitants. It rivals Sierra Leone in poverty and quality of life, but like that country the people are presented as happy go lucky in their approach to life. It, too, has a sort of natural beauty. It is a fascinating place with a equally fascinating history as the first free slave republic and the birthplace of voodoo. It is probably at the top of the list of Greene novel settings that I want to visit as well.
Smith travels to South America for the location of another favorite, The Honorary Counsal, in the fifth section about Argentina and Paraguay. Last year I traveled to Argentina and thoroughly enjoyed, but found it less exotic than Peru and Brazil. I had forgotten the role Paraguay played in the novel, but it is apparently a cesspool of crime, greed, and corruption where criminals, terrorists and fugitives gather. It is the location for major smuggling operations. It sounds terribly interesting to me and goes on the list of places from Greene novels to visit.
In the epilogue, Smith returns to England and Berhamsted, the birthplace of Greene and the setting for The Human Factor. It is a fitting way to put Greene's life and travels in perspective. Allin all, I quite enjoyed the investigations of Green locations, occasionally I found the author a bit off putting with her editorial comments about her opinions of people and incidents, but Smith was mostly objective in her opinions.