A famous architect struggling with a crisis of faith escapes to a leper colony in the Congo, in Graham Greene’s “greatest novel” ( Time ).
Querry is a world-renowned architect noted for his magnificent churches, each designed not for the glory of God, but for the satisfaction of self. Suddenly infected with indifference, he has abandoned his pursuit of pleasure. Now he has reached the end of desire at the end of the world—a colony of lepers in the remote jungles of Africa.
Here, under the guidance of Doctor Colin, a fellow atheist, Querry’s consideration of the sick could be something close to a cure for his own suffering. So too, it first seems, could a local plantation owner’s lonely and abused wife—Querry’s unlikely confessor. But when Querry reluctantly agrees to build a hospital and his good intentions brand him a modern-day saint, all the intrusive and dangerous piety of civilization returns. And this time it could be inescapable.
From “the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man’s consciousness and anxiety” comes Graham Greene’s celebrated novel about the consequences of conviction, the sickness of the soul, and the tenuous endurance of the human spirit (William Golding).
Particularly known novels, such as The Power and the Glory (1940), of British writer Henry Graham Greene reflect his ardent Catholic beliefs.
The Order of Merit and the Companions of Honour inducted this English novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenplay writer, travel writer, and critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity.
"A storm was on the way, and the flying ants swarmed into the room, striking against the light until he shut the window. Then they fell in the cement floor and lost their wings and ran this way and that as though they were confused at finding themselves so suddenly creatures of earth not air." A Burnt-Out Case, Chapter Three.
Have you ever felt totally burnt out? Bereft of the old untarnished simplicity of attitude you once had? At a loss to find any more answers for the monstrous dish of insurmountable questions life has heaped onto your plate?
You’re not alone: Query, too, has burnt out.
His meteoric rise to fame as a brilliant and world-famous European architect means NOTHING to him now.
Just a pile of useless smoking ashes... you can't fly high for ever.
His life is in ruIns, because his restlessly questioning mind (and yes, there is a bitter pun on his name) has thought itself out - and has turned up... Nada.
Not a single reason for it all.
So now... even his questions seem meaningless.
There is NOTHING left for him.
EXCEPT, perhaps, doing some real, tangible good for some less fortunate soul who REALLY needs it! Perhaps that would prove he still has some moral worth.
But at first he doesn't think so. He complains to Dr Colin that he no longer has a vocation, since it was all for himself. And my thoughts echoed his at my burnout in 2005. But for the NEW to be born, the Old must Die, and I became at length Surprised by Joy!
Query MUST now prove at least that his soul has SOME TINY RESIDUE OF MORAL VALUE in this ugly, empty world.
And so to Darkest Africa he goes... where he meets Deo Gratias, a poor leper.
Now, Deo Gratias is burnt out, too.
But he is happy.
You see, this totally impoverished African man has leprosy: a leprosy which HAS BURNT ITSELF OUT.
There’s a very real and substantial foundation to your life on earth when you’ve broken free, clean and even, after a long and intense period of suffering and self-loathing: and such emotions have been no stranger to Deo Gratias.
So like his ecclesiastical moniker implies, he is Thankful. He helps out at the leprosarium doing odd jobs, never complaining that his hands and feet are sticks.
Because it can’t get any worse, right?
But can Query learn anything from a man who has so much LESS than he has, or ever has had?
And he DOES. For Deo Gratias teaches him WORDLESSLY... Greene’s subtly oblique way of telling this wonderful story.
AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS GREENE’S PARABLE - a story that will take you to the ends of the earth...
Many thanks to my Goodreads friend Michael Perkins for alerting me to this tremendous book. This is a profound meditation on religion, faith, and the sort of world-weariness that comes over us all at times. The main character, Querry, is a renowned architect--of churches, among other buildings--who travels to a leper colony in Africa because he's burnt out in everything: work, women, fame, life. But he undergoes a gradual redemption of sorts, a gradual reinstallation of care, as he helps out the doctor in the colony. But his fame is the one thing he can't escape, as others realize who he is and he becomes the subject of their stories and myths, as they use him for their own ends.
This is a serious work by a brilliant author. The only reason I'd rate this slightly behind his very best work--The End of the Affair, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, Brighton Rock, and The Quiet American--is because much of the story is given over to characters discussing religion and faith. In other words, at times I felt that too little happened. Was this Greene's own statement about the contrived mechanics of fiction? Was he also "burnt out" by the stale expectations of plot? Perhaps. Yet I still felt something minor was missing, some essential tension. Again, this is a relatively minor complaint for this worthy capstone to a remarkable novelist's career. This is a book I expect I'll re-read at some point, and I wonder if at that point I too will no longer require the sort of mechanics I've grown accustomed to.
"I suffer from nothing. I no longer know what suffering is. I have come to an end of all that too."
So speaks an architect from Western Europe in his late fifties by the name of Querry as he travels up a Congo river to take residence among lepers in a colony run by Catholic priests.
I read A Burnt-Out Case fifty years ago and could immediately detect the power in Graham Greene's timeless classic. I just did reread and my initial judgment is confirmed - the insights pour forth on every single page.
To share a taste of the depth and range of the great British author's penetrating observations, I'll link my comments to a number of direct quotes taken from the opening chapters. However, in the spirit of freshness, I'll take a somewhat unorthodox approach, a particular slant in my selection. Here goes:
“He had a passion for slaughtering any living thing, as though only man had the right to a natural death.”
The objective third-person narrator is alluding to the captain of the small ship Querry travels on and this captain also happens to be a Roman Catholic priest. One of the ugliest aspects of Western Culture: a complete misreading of mankind's place within the web of nature, a gross misunderstanding that sees humans as the only form of life worthy of respect. It was only after 1960, publication year for the novel, that Europeans and Americans would begin to shoot African wildlife with a camera rather than a rifle.
“The passenger wondered when it was that he had first begun to detest laughter like a bad smell.”
One of the indicators someone might qualify as suffering from existential burnout: they lose their sense of humor and capacity to experience joy. This is certainly true of Querry, a man wishing to sever any ties he has with his past. When the doctor at the leper colony first spots Querry, he sees a man with a grizzled morning stubble and wearing a crumpled tropical suit, an appearance that seems to exude misery.
“We are men of the world, Querry, you and I....I tried to teach her the importance of loving God. Because if she loved Him, she wouldn't want to offend Him, would she?”
So speaketh Rycker, a man trained by the Jesuits and a man who might have become a priest. Rycker objects to his young wife refusing to share his bed and uses theological reasoning (love God therefore do not offend God by refusing to accept your marital duties as wife) as an attempt to get his own way. For me, Rycker qualifies as among the most despicable characters in fiction.
“I wasn't concerned with the people who occupied my space – only with the space.”
Querry spent a career as a distinguished architect of churches. Yet he didn't care about the congregation or their prayers; rather he only valued the aesthetics of space, light and proportion. He adamantly objected to the worshipers crapping up his creation with tawdry plastic saints and replacing his plain windows with stained glass. Querry states directly he made what he made exclusively for his own pleasure. Is such a rigid stance justifiable in an architect?
“Self-expression is a hard and selfish thing. It eats everything, even the self. At the end you find you haven't even got a self to express. I have no interest in anything any more, doctor. I don't want to sleep with a woman or design a building.”
These are Querry's harsh words. I kept wondering how much of Graham Greene we can read in burnt-out architect Querry.
The tale takes a number of unexpected turns as we discover the depth of complexity in Querry and just how ugly, vile, slimy and retched a man like Rycker can be.
Why am I in love with Graham Greene the novels of Graham Greene? So many reasons... His deep intelligence and respect for the reader's intelligence. He's passionate; his characters fall deeply in love, into or out of faith. Their concerns are very real; their thoughts and dialogue feel so. Their conversations are engaging and not there just to "move the plot along." Greene loves women. You can tell. His female characters feel real, not idealized, not just versions of the same woman. I don't always love them (the lover in The Heart of the Matter for ex.) but I believe in them. And they are not predictable. His novels are plotted but do not race to their end; the construct of plot doesn't peek through like bones through some threadbare fabric. The situations and settings in which Greene's characters live and work, or go to escape, are difficult, often extreme. People are tested, as is their love, faith, integrity. His novels matter. The characters matter: Querry and Dr Colin in this one...the Brothers and the young wife...they're never just types, never played just for laughs, though to be sure there is comic relief: Mr Rycker and the journalist Parkinson are very funny (obnoxious) characters. This was described to me as a perfect novel, and it may be that, if such a thing exists: it is so well-plotted, yet never predictable. It's short yet it feels very dense. Are we picking favorites here? I'll lay claim to this one. For now.
p.s. I see I am living my life all wrong. I need to be living & working in one of these places, one of his settings...
Graham Greene wrote a number of first class novels like "The Comedians", "The Power and the Glory", "The Quiet American", and the comic "Our Man in Havana", to name a few. He wrote others, of course, which did not quite reach the same level. I would say that this novel, which takes place at a leprosarium in the (former) Belgian Congo is one of them. Still, Greene was probably incapable of writing a complete clunker. When you criticize a novel of his, you are basically saying `it's not as good as the others'. A stranger arrives by river boat at a leprosy hospital run by Catholic fathers at the end of the line. We gradually learn that Querry, the stranger, used to be a world famous architect, but owing to a severe disillusionment with the human race and life, has retreated from all of it to bury himself in the African jungles to try to be "of use". He has no wish to maintain any connection with his past, which included a number of love affairs. The fathers don't know what to make of him. They decide that he is just as much a burnt-out case as the lepers whose disease has been cured, but who are so disabled that they cannot rejoin society. An atheistic secular doctor understands Querry best, one of the fathers begins to believe in miracles that Querry never performed. The architect is on the run from just such people. A local colonial settler, who is running a palm oil plantation, noses out Querry's identity and presses his obnoxious views and demeanor on the luckless refugee. The settler has married a much younger woman most unsuccessfully. A certain situation builds up, even while Querry is coming back to life. There is the inevitable, but ironic, denouement. Greene's propensity for including lots of Catholic philosophy seems a bit over the top in this slight novel because philosophy in a novel must enhance, but not overwhelm, the plot. If you are a big Greene fan, of course you should read this one. It's entertaining in a painful sort of way, but with a smaller palette of colors than usual.
A brief but stinging account of suffering, set in Africa. It turns out some people are actually attracted to suffering. If they could have a few drinks in the evening. And have long discussions about god and Christianity. A Burnt-Out Case is the darkest Graham Greene novel that I've read so far. Greene gives the reader the best seat for a tour of hell. This is like handing a sadist a binoculars to watch a massacre. All described with some of the most beautiful and humbling similies. In its own way, this is a man on the run novel. But even the depths of suffering have been infiltrated by hope peddlers, depressed needy women and the most pompous sadists of them all - journalists.
A conversation from hell:
"A patient can always detect whether he is loved or whether it is only his leprosy which is loved. I don't want leprosy loved. I want it eliminated. There are fifteen million cases in the world. We don't want to waste time with neurotics, father."
"I wish you had a little time to waste. You work too hard."
But Doctor Colin was not listening. He said, "You remember that little leproserie in the bush that the nuns ran. When D. D. S. was discovered to be a cure, they were soon reduced to half a dozen patients. Do you know what one of the nuns said to me? It's terrible, doctor. Soon we'll have no lepers at all.' There surely was a leprophil."
"Poor woman," the Superior said. "You don't see the other side."
"What other side?"
"An old maid, without imagination, anxious to do good, to be of use. There aren't so many places in the world for people like that. And the practice of her vocation is being taken away from her by the weekly doses of D. D. S. tablets."
"I thought you didn't look for motives."
"Oh, mine's a very superficial reading like your own diagnosis, doctor. But it would be a good thing for all of us if we were even more superficial. There's no real harm in a superficial judgment, but if I begin to probe into what lies behind that desire to be of use, oh well, I might find some terrible things, and we are all tempted to stop when we reach that point. Yet if we dug further, who knows?—the terrible too might be only a few skins deep. Anyway it's safer to make superficial judgments. They can always be shrugged off. Even by the victims."
"And Querry? What of him? Superficially speaking, of course."
It is a humbling question. We exend our hands quite gleefully to those who need help. But do we celebrate others success with the same glee? Man, what would the world be without the loser/the underdog/the leper? There would be nothing for the loserphil and the underdogphil and the leprophil to do.
"Human nature is not black and white but black and grey"
- Graham Greene
Another book based on Greene's actual travels and life experience.
The title is a double entendre. It refers to lepers who have been cured of their disease. but are not ready to join "normal society" and the main character, a world famous architect, Querry, who has had enough and decides to head out to Africa. He has no particular purpose for his trip except to escape his circumstances (a common theme in Greene's own life). The river boat he ends up on in the Congo and lands at a leprosy sanitarium. The boat is going no farther at that moment, so he decides to get off and stay.
For some who might attempt to stereotype Greene's writing, here are some things interesting to know about this novel. The heroes of this story are an atheist doctor, who is very devoted to his patients, and the title character, a lapsed Catholic who never recovers his faith, but starts to find some meaning in helping others.
The author's scorn is reserved for Catholics, including some of the priests and missionaries. The villain, so to speak, is a former priest who is always spouting pious platitudes and pontificating about Catholic doctrine and theology. But his actions are the opposite of his talk. He's married to a young woman, whom he treats as a sex slave. He likes that she is not educated and won't "talk back." Subsequent actions show that he's not only a hypocrite, but a vile and criminal person.
By now, Greene started to refer to himself as "a Catholic agnostic," "a Catholic atheist" or simply just "atheist." He had always rejected the designation of "Catholic writer" any way. This novel shows his honesty in his willingness to show some of the people one does encounter in this life.
I just finished Green's memoir, "Ways of Escape." Here are his comments on "The Burnt-Out Case" from his memoir...
I went to Belgian Congo in January 1959 with a new novel already beginning to form in my head by way of a situation -- a stranger who turns up in a remote leper settlement for no apparent reason...
....the book appealed too often to weak elements in its readers. Never had I received so many letters from strangers -- perhaps the majority of them from women and priests.
I felt myself used and exhausted by the victims of religion. The vision of faith as untroubled sea was lost for ever; faith was more like a tempest in which the lucky were engulfed and lost, and the unfortunate survived to be flung battered and bleeding on the shore.
A better man could have found a life's work on the margin of that cruel sea, but my own course of life gave me no confidence in any aid I might proffer. I had no apostolic mission, and the cries for spiritual assistance maddened me because of my impotence. What was the Church for but to aid these sufferers? What was the priesthood for? I was like a man without medical knowledge in a village struck with plague. It was in those years, I think, that Querry was born. He had often sat in that chair of mine, and he had worn many faces.
“Doubt is the heart of the matter. Abolish all doubt, and what's left is not faith, but absolute, heartless conviction. You're certain that you possess the Truth -- inevitably offered with an implied uppercase T -- and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness, by which I mean a demonstrative, overweening pride in being so very right, in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism.”
This short, compelling novel starts with a quote by Dante, "I did not die, yet nothing of life remained." That sums up Querry, a famous architect, as he arrives at a Congo leper colony. Like those lepers who are cured because the disease has run its course and they have lost all their limbs, Querry becomes a "burnt out case." Querry is like a chameleon -everyone he encounters sees what they want to see, so he is a perfect vehicle for Greene to ponder faith and hypocrisy. This is not a heavy handed novel of ideas though - it is elegantly written, spare and fleet-footed.
"Have you never come across a leper, Father, who is afraid of striking his fingers because he knows that they won't hurt anymore?" - M. Querry, Architect
"I've known men who rejoice when the feeling returns, even pain. But you have to give pain a chance." - Father Superior
A passenger, Querry, rides a dilapidated steamboat up the Congo. He is a renowned architect of cathedrals in Europe but no longer interested in his work. He arrives at a leprosy colony run by Dr. Colin and the Father Superior. Deo Gratias, one of Colin's patients, has been cured but is 'a burnt-out case', a leper who has lost fingers and toes and is not able to work any more. Querry does odd jobs and journeys through the jungle to deliver medical equipment and supplies.
When he returns it has been discovered who he is. Rycker, a colonial plantation owner, recognized him. Colin is in need of an architect to design a new hospital building but Querry refuses. Design was an act of love that couldn't be done on demand. He had renounced religion as well as architecture but has an epiphany and relents. Deo disappears into the jungle one night and is rescued by Querry. People whisper Querry is a saint sent to build a new African church.
As with Deo's disease, Querry had been cured of belief but lost his ability to love. In Greene's analogy he is 'a burnt-out case'. An English reporter, arrives at the colony to write a series of articles on Querry's activities with the mission and exposes his past personal scandals. Ryker is married to Marie, a girl half his age. She becomes pregnant and Querry takes her to the city to find a doctor. Ryker chases after them, convinced that she had an affair with Querry.
By 1960 Graham Greene had entered his agnostic period but this book is permeated with Catholic imagery and themes. It is less fun than his prior thriller 'The Quiet American' or his comedy 'Our Man in Havana' but is still not bad as a drama. Like those previous novels this one has a cinematic feel. Greene visited Congo leper colonies in 1959. It was during the independence movement which unfortunately isn't part of the story. He was in the right place at the right time.
Indifference in British (ɪnˈdɪfrəns , -fərəns) noun 1. the fact or state of being indifferent; lack of care or concern 2. lack of quality; mediocrity 3. lack of importance; insignificance 4. principle of indifference (principle of indifference in British noun the principle that, in the absence of any reason to expect one event rather than another, all the possible events should be assigned the same probability)
We have met him before in literature, the loner, The Steppenwolf, the antihero, or even Luke Rhinehart, someone who doesn´t give a toss and lets “life” take him where ever it may. However, we don´t often meet a man who runs away like Querry, deliberately, but without any goal or plan.
His sole wish is to be left alone, and at time of his escape the choices are Japan or Congo, the plane for Japan is full though, Congo it is. Somewhere up the River Rutki, a tributary to River Congo, there is a leproserie run by a non-descript catholic order and an atheist doctor. Served by the Bishop´s boat, this is the last stop, before the river becomes unnavigable and traveling further by road is only possible in dry weather. If you want to get away from the outside world, this seems the perfect place.
The likelihood of someone recognizing you as “THE Querry” in this neighborhood is next to zero, and Querry first of all wants to disassociate himself from everything connected to his former life, as a successful architect in the line of church building, as a man, as a lover. He has arrived at the point where the words from Ecclesiastes suddenly make sense; "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "all is vanity!".
“Everything I did for myself”, Querry says. Not for the love of God, as many like to attribute to him when praising his architectural works. Neither were all the love affairs meant for anything than the pleasure of the moment, an ego-boost to get by. It is the slow coming of indifference, which like leprosy is maiming first the nerves and then mutilating your body, Querry is running away from.
But however indifferent to the world Querry feels, the world will not let him alone. He has an impact on the leper colony, like it or not, and you can hardly resist such forever. Querry´s life is changing little by little and we will even see the odd smile a few times. Will it last, will Querry come out a reformed man, will he contract leprosy or drown himself in the river?
Even at the slow pace in the jungle, a lot will happen before we reach the end. We will meet other characters, each with their ghosts and their own struggles. They will all play a part in Querry´s life and they all show that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes down to how you live your life.
From Graham Greene´s hand this is more or less business as usual. If in doubt, morally, ethically or religiously, you must confront your doubt. Place yourself in a context where opposites meet and find your stand. There is no right or wrong, but the doubt will tear you apart, and even when there are wrong turns, a little humanity and concern can shine through. If it was not for Graham Greene´s unique style, I would brush this away as banalities, but Graham Greene shows through his characters how hard it is to come to terms with who you are or who you have become.
Instantly another of my favorite poets came to my mind. Leonard Cohen has provided the perfect soundtrack to “A Burnt-out Case”
You Want It Darker
If you are the dealer, I'm out of the game If you are the healer, it means I'm broken and lame If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame You want it darker We kill the flame Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name Vilified, crucified, in the human frame A million candles burning for the help that never came You want it darker Hineni, hineni I'm ready, my lord There's a lover in the story But the story's still the same There's a lullaby for suffering And a paradox to blame But it's written in the scriptures And it's not some idle claim You want it darker We kill the flame They're lining up the prisoners And the guards are taking aim I struggled with some demons They were middle class and tame I didn't know I had permission to murder and to maim You want it darker Hineni, hineni I'm ready, my lord Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name Vilified, crucified, in the human frame A million candles burning for the love that never came You want it darker We kill the flame If you are the dealer, let me out of the game If you are the healer, I'm broken and lame If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame You want it darker Hineni, hineni Hineni, hineni I'm ready, my lord Hineni Hineni, hineni Hineni
Do you ever start to read books that you know are really good but you can't get into them? I've been trying to read A Burnt Out Case for days. It didn't work for in print so I got the audio. Same thing. I listen to a bit and come back to it later and I don't remember what I have listened to. So I start again and remember it as I go along so it's boring, so I fast-forward listen to it, put it down. Next time I go back to it, I forgotten it all over again!
I really like Graham Greene, and what I have read (and remembered) is well-written and interesting, sort of, but it doesn't hold my attention, so I'm dnf'ing it for now. Maybe I'll remember it in the future and go back to it then.
Anyone got any tricks to get through this to where I become fully involved?
Greene writes books which require thought, because he puts his own struggles with faith and philosophy into his novels. The principal character is Querry, a famous architect who is disillusioned with his work, his faith, relationships and life in general. He travels to the Congo, to a leper colony deep in the interior and run by a Catholic monastic order. Here he makes himself useful and even safes the life of one particular resident, by rescuing him when lost at night. Querry has travelled to what he perceives to be the end of the world; bur he is still recognised, by the monks who are quite worldly (apart from one brother) and by a local plantation owner Ryker, who is very strictly religious. An English journalist arrives (there’s no escape from the press!!) and chain of events is set off which ends in tragedy. Greene sets up philosophical discussions between Querry and the mission doctor, Dr Colin, who is an atheist and is the most sympathetic character in the whole book. Greene did go to a leper colony in what was then the Congo (Yonda to be precise) to stay for a while. There is a fascinating article about his stay by the doctor there, Michel Lechat; in the London Review of Books. The issue I have been avoiding up till now is Conrad and Heart of Darkness. The journey downriver that Querry takes is the same one made in heart of darkness (indeed the same one Greene made and also Conrad in 1890). Greene was reading Conrad on his journey. There are links between the journeys in both books, the centrality of the rivers and the quest for salvation/redemption. Although Greene works much harder to make the reader like Querry than Conrad does Kurtz. Then the question arises as to whether Chinua Achebe’s objection to Heart of Darkness is pertinent to Greene as well: ‘Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind.’ I think it does. Greene’s choice of location for his novel was a little anachronistic even when he wrote it and he was considering I think a Schweitzer type of approach to faith. Conrad’s novel is more politically motivated and contains a great deal more metaphor. Greene is more concerned with the “human soul” and I think he does as Achebe suggests, use Africa as a prop for the discussion. Orwell’s criticism of an early Greene novel, The Heart of the Matter; that it could have taken place in Surrey rather than Sierra Leone holds for this novel too. It could really have taken place anywhere. The time when the novel is set was just before independence and there was a great deal going on politically (The Poisonwood Bible is set at the same time). None of this finds its way into the novel. There is a good deal of melodrama and farce about the tale. One senses Greene identifies somewhat with Querry and there may be some self-justification going on; especially in relation with Greene’s relationships with women. Nevertheless Greene can certainly write and the novel reads very easily. This however makes the shortcomings more frustrating. The religious and philosophical discussions are interesting, but I enjoyed The Power and the Glory more.
This was the first Greene book I read nearly 50 years ago, a book that ignited my desire to become a writer. Reading it again today, this novel, one of the author’s most pivotal, has not lost its power on me.
Greene wrote A Burnt Out Case when he was at the height of his literary powers, albeit burned out by the gruelling routine of generating an average of two books a year amidst his peregrinations to obscure corners of the world as a journalist (and spy?). He was burned out, and like his protagonist Querry (a world famous architect), had lost his desire to write again. However, unlike Querry, Greene was to get a renewed charge of vocation after the publication of this book and go onto produce as many novels, short-story collections, non-fiction, and plays as he had done before the burnout.
Querry retreats from his fame to a leper colony run by Catholic priests and nuns in the Belgian Congo in the mid 1950’s. He has lost his capacity to love and to create. Like Greene, he is a lapsed Catholic, who has seen the churches he built disfigured by the masses with their cheap imagery and ornamentation. Lepers are burnt out cases, like him; yet as Dr. Colin, the colony’s doctor, reminds Querry, “Leprosy can now be cured physically. It is a psychological disease.” In the colony, Querry starts to heal when he helps build a hospital and do other acts of service.
Greene’s archetypal villains, in the form of the self-righteous Catholic and the femme fatale, spring to the fore in Rycker, a former novitiate and now the manager of a palm-oil factory in the Congo, and his young wife, Marie. Ryker can only get sexually aroused when he talks religion, and he is starved for intellectual company – Querry is his solution. Marie is looking to escape a loveless marriage and a dull existence in the middle of nowhere – Querry is her ticket out. The spectre of fake news, a phenomenon endemic today but present back then too, is represented in the form of Parkinson, the syndicated journalist on the hunt for a sensational story where a few lies only help juice up the offering – and Querry is his target. In a cleverly paced plot, Greene leads us to a fulfilling climax where everyone gets what they desire, including Querry, in a fatalistically tragic way.
Querry’s pre-occupations are Greene’s, if you consider that both creator and his subject are at the top of their game, yet disillusioned with the outcome. “Success is a mutilation of the natural man,” says Dr. Colin. Other “Greene-isms” dot the pages, even though Greene is not considered a great moral philosopher: “A vocation is an act of love, it is not a professional career.” “Sex and vocation are born and die together.” “A talent should not be buried, but obsolete coins have often been found in graves.” “Self-expression is a hard and selfish thing.” “Suffering puts us in touch with the human condition.”
The one sour note in the book is the constantly repetitious denial by Querry that he has nothing more to live for even though his behaviour proves otherwise– it gets a bit tiresome. His long-night-of-the-soul moment with Marie in which he lapses into a parable—and it is obvious to everyone (including Marie) that it is all about him (tout a toi)—is overdone. Hubris leads to his undoing when he ignores social convention and accompanies a married woman to a hotel while her husband writhes in fever back home, while a journalist is holed up in a nearby room with a camera, angling for his next scoop. “I’m disturbed by a man without fear,” says the Superior of the léproserie; Query is feared, praised, and respected as a saint among mortals. Yet, as Christ was easily ridiculed and crucified when the winds changed, these lesser mortals are not averse to pounce on Querry at the first hint of transgression.
Plot contrivances and soul searches notwithstanding, this is an excellent book. I am glad to have rediscovered it after so many years and enjoyed it for a second time.
For me one of Greene's better of his deep thought novels. I enjoy his 'entertainments' but have perhaps not had the same connection with his more serious works (or the Catholic novels) - until this one (noting that this isn't one of his big 4 Catholic novels, but certainly partially follows that line). For me this one was masterfully crafted, the main character was excellent in his shallowness and depth, and his emotional evolution from the beginning to the end of the novel. There were unpredictable twists and turns and a building of pace and expectation which I find all to often missing in fiction. This book has reinforced for me the excellence of Greene's writing, and why I come back to him time and again (and why I have to resist reading him too often, for fear of running out of his books). There are other reviews which outline plot, but very quickly, some of the main points which drew my interest immediately - most of which can be learned by reading the blurb - the main character is a famous ecclesiastical architect with a (deserved) reputation for womanising and an unsavoury history of relationships travels on a whim to deepest Congo to work as a volunteer in a leper colony, helping design and build a hospital. While there, the resident doctor says that he is the mental equivalent of a ‘burn-out case’, a term that’s used to describe leprosy patients who’ve lost an appendage. As the story unfolds, he explains how he has lost his faith, and grown to dislike the fame he receives due to his work. Certain characters around him misinterpret his explanation and build up his story to make him some sort of martyr, giving up fame and fortune to work for God in a leper colony. His interactions with an atheist doctor, the varied characters of the fathers who administer the colony, and a journalist keen to make what he can of the situation, along with the above mentioned miscommunications roll out through the novel, snowballing to what becomes almost an inevitable outcome deep in an irony that the architect himself finds amusing.
I enjoyed this from the start, but expected to enjoy it less by the end (I can't explain why!!) but was surprised to find it got better and better.
'Fame makes a man take things over Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow Fame puts you where things are hollow...'
Unfair comparisons with that tongue-in-cheek song by David Bowie and co-written by John Lennon aside, Graham Greene's 'A Burnt-Out Case', though on a totally different note, is about one such man whose fame and affluence has put him in a peculiar condition - a psychological counterpart to the physical form of leprosy, a severe case of burnout that has left him without any enthusiasm or emotional involvement in his work and his private life. And so, he is on the run from it all, from his wealth and his overwhelming success at home, and he lands as far as he can get from them, in the sweltering heat and humidity of Belgian Congo where the worst and most pitiable depths of human suffering can be found.
Querry finds a refuge of sorts with the helpless and inevitably flawed but somewhat determined people entrusted with the responsibility to heal and care the contorted, deformed and mutilated lepers on this end of the river. There is an atheist doctor, who nurses still a grudging idealism to bring revolutionary remedies for his patients despite the grim realities of the world around him. And there is a motley gang of priests and nuns serving spiritual solace in vain and nursing their own flawed idealism about their faith spreading in this starkly beautiful continent. What they all, including Querry who has come here to seek a haven of anonymity and even a new vocation, fail to realise quite spectacularly is that this continent, this landscape of both monstrous injustices by God and man and of miracles equally incomprehensible, cannot be the idealised Eden of their dreams, aspirations and desperate hopes. It cannot be tamed or made to fit into their schemes.
Betrayal of these very dreams, aspirations and hopes is at the crux of Greene's beautifully tailored narrative, a leisurely but steadily escalating series of cathartic events and coincidences converging meticulously into a catastrophic climax. Greene's mesmerising, even elegiac prose, when describing the alienating yet strangely alluring and absorbing landscape of the Congo, is evenly balanced out by his usual trademark literary skills - a peerless mastery of perspective, here shuttling from Querry's practised cynicism and world-weary outlook on love and faith to Doctor Colin's determined, relentless quest to do his duty to even the perspective of Marie, one of Greene's most thrillingly unpredictable female characters, a child-wife who thirsts for escape from this sweltering, punishingly bleak land and from her cold and unemotional Catholic marriage with the domineering, irascible fanatic Rycker as well.
One cannot help but admire the ingenuity with which Greene plays off these characters, pits their conflicting thoughts and opinions and then lets them tug the central narrative - of Querry's sincere efforts being publicised and perverted as an urban legend of sainthood - into dramatic directions that all converge into a fascinatingly concise story. In less than two hundred pages, the master storyteller weaves in the most telling of little details, the most profound and even sharply ironic of reflections on faith and love and responsibility, breathes throbbing life and believably human pathos and warmth into even the smallest of characters - like the boastful, bogus journalist Parkinson or in the enigmatic silence of the 'cured' leper Deo Gratias.
Like 'The Heart Of The Matter' and 'The Comedians', this novel too does not quite fit into a single genre and refuses to be categorised easily; it is, at one level, a probing deconstruction of the sordid realities of Africa shorn here of any colonialist romanticisation and at the same time, like 'The Quiet American', it is a deeply intimate tale, of love and lust and what do they mean against bigger ideas of religion and atheism and it unfolds just as beautifully, culminating to a heart-breaking end.
One can imagine Greene writing this book, like so much of his work, as a personal story of sorts. By that time in his life, he had already accomplished so much in his field that he too, like Querry, must have felt disgusted and dissatisfied with how fame can make a man hollow, lose his own natural capacity for goodness, love and initiative. This is what makes this a doubly brilliant and indelible experience.
I do enjoy reading Graham Greene. This story is set in the Belgian Congo now Zaire. Querry is a famous, wealthy and successful architect but he has lost the ability to connect with emotion or spirituality. One day he gets on a random plane in Europe and ends up in the Congo. He takes a boat down the Congo to get as far away from civilization as he can.
He ends up at a Catholic church-run leprosarium in the middle of the Belgian Congo. His lack of spirituality is similar to a medical burnt-out case or a leper who is in remission but who has been mutilated by the leprosy either physically or psychologically. Querry undertakes a rejuvenation with his contact with leper’s, staff and then by helping at the leprosarium.
One day an obese tabloid journalist arrives called Parkinson. He knows about Querry’s dubious past and writes a series of sensationalized newspaper articles about him. All Querry wants his to be left alone in anonymity. Oddly Querry who refuted his Catholic roots is the most Christian person in the novel. His selflessness in saving his servant, generosity in helping Doctor Colin design a hospital and sacrifice contrasts with the villain Rycker’s dogmatic following of Catholic theology. As in many of Greene’s novels the true villains are usually the ones who are dogmatic in their religious beliefs.
Querry has foolishly made friends with the wife of Rycker a palm oil factory manager. He becomes jealous of his relationship with Marie a young silly woman when he discovers in her diary ‘Spent night with Querry!’ This perhaps symbolizes the absurdity of the situation Querry finds himself in an innocent situation misunderstood.
The disease of leprosy provides Greene with a means to physically symbolize psychological conditions. Everyone to some degree can be a leper sometime during their life. Most people are cured, however some fall to the worst of the disease. Depending on your belief you can cure yourself through faith or science, with good acts, with the praise of others or with sex. Life can be viewed as a disease where you either heal yourself and learn to survive or you do not with fatal or depressing consequences.
‘Oh yes, make no mistake, one does. One comes to an end.’ ‘What are you here for then? To make love to a black woman?’ ‘No. One comes to an end of that too. Possibly sex and a vocation are born and die together. Let me roll bandages or carry buckets. All I want is to pass the time.’ ‘I thought you wanted to be of use.’ ‘Listen,’ Querry said and then fell silent. ‘I am listening.’
To me this quote perfectly describes A Burnt Out Case - it is a story about communication and miscommunication.
When Querry, a world famous architect, struggles to find any interest in life he decides to walk out and take up living in a leper colony in the Congo. Fed up with fame and having to cater to taste of people who do not share his vision or ability to imagine, he hopes that no one would recognise him, and all he wants to do is to be of use to the people around him.
However, things don't go to plan. Even at the leper colony he encounters a band of expats who badger him about his past life. As little by little the reasons for his burn-out are revealed, Querry starts to recover from the depression he experienced only to be confronted with the same paradox he tried to flee from.
"‘Two of your churches are famous. Didn’t you care what happened inside them – to people?’ ‘The acoustics had to be good of course. The high altar had to be visible to all. But people hated them. They said they weren’t designed for prayer. They meant that they were not Roman or Gothic or Byzantine. And in a year they had cluttered them up with their cheap plaster saints; they took out my plain windows and put in stained glass dedicated to dead pork-packers who had contributed to diocesan funds, and when they had destroyed my space and my light, they were able to pray again, and they even became proud of what they had spoilt.'"
Those aren't Graham Greene's words; they come from the finale of the 1962 John Ford western movie classic, The Man Who Shot Libery Valance, and they refer to how a mythos can be created from a lie; how the sad, banal truth rarely stands a chance against the compelling human urge to heroicize, romanticize, mythologize and canonize.
In Greene's A Burnt-out Case, his spiritually spent ("burnt-out") and self-denigrating protagonist, Querry--an architect and womanizer who has lost his passions--finds his actions misinterpreted and himself unwittingly proclaimed a hero, even a saint. The irony is that Querry has fled Europe to get away from praise. Feeling prostituted as an architect whose work is compromised and overpraised, and dissolute and disingenuous in his pursuit of sex rather than love, Querry flees to the remotest place he can find: a leper colony deep in the African forest--to hide from the world and from himself, to figure out just who he is and what he really wants to do.
Querry is welcomed into the colony, which is run by a Catholic order and staffed by an atheist doctor, Colin, who seems more driven by a sense of scientific duty than by compassion. Not long after arriving, Querry--despite his cynical and blase' facade--commits a simple act of mercy and altruism by spending the night in the swamp with a leper in trouble. Thereafter, nearly everyone ascribes godliness to Querry despite his denials and protestations. His fans include the local palm-oil tycoon Rycker (a self-righteous Christian who follows the letter rather than the spirit of his faith), Dr. Colin, Father Thomas (a priest who questions the strength of his own faith), and a meddlesome newspaper reporter, Parkinson, whose knack for twisting the truth for the sake of good newspaper copy irritates Querry.
In his aimless quest for a sense of rootedness, Querry fixates on the inscrutable behavior of his assigned personal assistant, Deo Gratias, a native who has been cured and set free of the leproserie, but who is reluctant to leave and enter a world where the scars of the disease mean social ostracism. Gratias, labeled a burnt-out case because the disease has run its course in its body, is contrasted with and compared to Querry in the novel--both are burnt-out cases in their ways and each seek their respective "Pendele", Gratias' word for a place to belong.
During the course of the story, the characters struggle with questions of faith, and the varying degrees and types of adherence to the confusing smorgasbord of biblical, canonical and other religious mandates and precepts--all seemingly interpreted differently according to his or her wont. The fathers, for instance, mostly seem interested in bland practical matters such as accounting and keeping the generator operating, as well as simple earthly pleasures such as card games and wine, to the chagrin of Fr. Thomas, who yearns for a more theological awareness (though not necessarily compassion) and ideological discussions. Rycker salves his conscience and pays his religious respects by donating goods to the leproserie, but treats his own wife in a most condescending way.
Some critics of this novel have complained that this is yet another "white men to the fore" novel in which the locals and the exotic locales serve merely as objectified backdrops to a white man's morality play. Such critiques miss the point, I think. By placing white men in a setting in which they are ostensibly altruistic, Greene actually is critiquing white men: white men who are adrift, alienated from a flawed world they created, separated from their homes both in geographical place and in spirit. So, yeah, that's kind of the point. It's part of Greene's critique of white men who have sold out, who are not genuine, who have been rapacious, who have lost their souls and who are trying to find them--and that is not just a struggle for white men, but for everyone.
Of the novels I've read by Green so far, this one is the most schematically designed to hammer out issues of the nature of religious faith. The most religious characters are often the most disingenous in their spiritual attitudes and practice and the most heathen are often the most selfless and conscientious.
The priests in the novel are not unlike the unethical newspaper reporter, Parkinson, who create saints out of a sinner and who whitewash a bill of goods palatable for the masses (though Parkinson knows he is peddling BS, unlike the priests). Ironically, it is an action in which Querry is blameless that brings him down, ultimately, and again it is because everyone around him chooses to believe what they want to believe, rather than the truth. Such can be faith.
Taking biblical allusion to perhaps an unsubtle plane, the downfall of Querry is tied to a woman. The Eve of the story is Marie, Rycker's emotionally abused and romantically unsatisfied wife. Even though Querry does not lay a hand on her, it is his "saintliness" to her that ironically brings him down; a kind of karmic revenge for the trail of broken hearts he left behind in Europe.
The novel for about 30 percent of the way is the most perfectly modulated I've ever read, but when the pedantic discussions of faith begin the book becomes less subtle and starts to feel like a philosophical sounding board for Greene. But the discussions are good ones, chock full of food for thought, and, even though I would not rank this quite as highly as The Comedians or The Quiet American, I still can't bring myself to give this less than five stars. Maybe four and a half.
I wanted to incorporate the following choice quotes from the novel into the review, but time is short (maybe tomorrow), and I'm off to read another Greene. I include these as an addendum:
p.52 Querry to Rycker: I once had (children), but they disappeared into the world a long time ago. We haven't kept in touch. Self expression eats the father in you, too.
p.57 (Querry wrote in his journal, in an attempt to make clear his motives to Dr. Colin:) "A vocation is an act of love: it is not a professional career. When desire is dead one cannot continue to make love. I've come to the end of desire and to the end of a vocation. Don't try to bind me in a loveless marriage and to make me imitate what I used to perform with passion. And don't talk to me like a priest about my duty. A talent -- we used to learn that lesson as children in scripture lessons -- should not be buried when it still has purchasing power, but when the currency has changed and the image has been superseded and no value is left in the coin but the weight of a wafer of silver, a man has every right to hide it. Obsolete coins, like corn, have always been found in graves."
p.90 Querry: "...but surely there's also something about having to be as little children if we are to inherit...We've grown up rather badly. The complications have become too complex - we should have stopped with the amoeba - no, long before that with the silicates. If your god wanted an adult world he should have given us an adult brain."
"You try to draw everything into the net of your faith, father, but you can't steal all the virtues. Gentleness isn't Christian, self-sacrifice isn't Christian, charity isn't, remorse isn't. I expect the caveman wept to see another's tears. Haven't you even seen a dog weep? In the last cooling of the world, when the emptiness of your belief is finally exposed, there'll always be some bemused fool who'll cover another's body with his own to give it warmth for an hour more of life."
p.96 (The Superior, giving a sermon in local dialect): "And I tell you the truth I was ashamed when this man said to me, 'You Klistians are all big thieves—you steal this, you steal that, you steal all the time. Oh, I know you don't steal money. You don't creep into Thomas Olo's hut and take his new radio set, but you are thieves all the same. Worse thieves than that. You see a man who lives with one wife and doesn't beat her and looks after her when she gets a bad pain from medicines at the hospital, and you say that's Klistian love. You go to the courthouse and you hear a good judge, who says to the piccin that stole sugar from the white man's cupboard, 'You're a very sorry piccin. I not punish you, and you, you will not come here again. No more sugar palaver,' and you say that's Klistian mercy. But you are a mighty big thief when you say that— for you steal this man's love and that man's mercy. Why do you say when you see man with knife in his back bleeding and dying, 'There Klistian anger?' . . . 'Why not say when Henry Okapa got a new bycicle and someone came and tore his brake, "There's Klistian envy." You are like a man who steals only the good fruit and leaves the bad fruit rotting on the tree.' When you love, it is Yezu who loves, when you are merciful it is Yezu who is merciful. But when you hate or envy it is not Yezu, for everything that Yezu made is good . . . "
p.135 "Would you write the truth, Parkinson, even if I told it to you? I know you wouldn't. You aren't burnt-out after all. You are still infectious."
p. 136 querry to Parkinson: "In my heart of course I had left the Church years before, but she never realized that. I believed a little of course, like so many do, at the major feasts, Christmas and Easter, when memories of childhood stir us to a kind of devotion."
"...in the end most women reach their climax most easily in the commonest position of all and with the commonest phrase upon the tongue."
p.138 "To build a church when you don't believe in a god seems a little indecent, doesn't it?"
p.142 Parkinson: "I'm going to build you up. I'll build you up so high they'll raise a statue to you by the river...I wouldn't be surprised if there were pilgrims at your shrine in twenty years, and that's how history is written."
p.151 Colin to Querry: "Wouldn't you rather suffer than feel discomfort? Discomfort irritates our ego like a mosquito-bite. We become aware of ourselves, the more uncomfortable we are, but suffering is quite a different matter. Sometimes I think that the search for suffering and the remembrance of suffering are the only means we have to put ourselves in touch with the whole human condition. With suffering we become part of the Christian myth."
p.181 Rycker said,"Saints used to be made by popular acclaim. I'm not sure that it wasn't a better method than a trial in Rome. We have taken you up, Querry. You don't belong to yourself anymore. You lost yourself when you prayed with that leper in the forest."
p.196 Querry, to Marie "The fact that his jewels ceased to be popular with the people in general only made him more popular with the connoisseurs who distrust popular success."
p.214 (Querry to Marie Rycker, about the nuns) "Oh, they are professionals. They believe anything. Even the Holy House of Loretto. They ask us to believe too much and then we believe less and less."
"You can brainwash yourself into anything you want – even into marriage or a vocation...Then the years pass and the marriage or the vocation fails and it's better to get out. It's the same with belief. People hang on to a marriage for fear of a lonely old age or to a vocation for fear of poverty. It's not a good reason. And it's not a good reason to hang on to the Church for the sake of some mumbo jumbo when you come to die."
p.237 Father Jean to Father Thomas: "Sometimes I think God was not entirely serious when he gave the man the sexual instinct."
p.240 Querry: "Disgust of praise. How it nauseates, doctor, by its stupidity. The very people who ruined my churches were loudest afterwards in their praise of what I'd built. The books they have written about my work, the pious motives they've attributed to me--they were enough to sicken me of the drawing-board....the praise of priests and pious people--the Ryckers of the world."
p.245 Dr. Colin: "Success is like that too--a mutilation of the natural man."
Η ιδιαίτερα αξιόλογη αυτή ιστορία λαμβάνει χώρα στο Κονγκό, σε ένα σχεδόν απομονωμένο λεπροκομείο, που διευθύνεται από την καθολική εκκλησία (καλόγριες και ιερείς).
Ο τίτλος στα αγγλικά, «A Burnt-Out Case», παραπέμπει κατ αρχάς στον χαρακτηρισμό, εκείνη την περίοδο, των θυμάτων της λέπρας που ενώ μπορούσαν να θεραπευτούν από την ασθένεια, η τελευταία τους είχε καταστρέψει τα άκρα, με αποτέλεσμα να βασανίζονται από αφόρητους πόνους με μονη εναλλακτική τον ακρωτηριασμό, πού ομως τους οδηγούσε σε αδυναμία να φέρουν εις πέρας τις ανάγκες τους, κι έτσι κατέληγαν «καμμένα χαρτιά», όπως μεταφράστηκε αυτή η έκφραση στα ελληνικά. Ο χαρακτηρισμός αυτός, όμως, ταιριάζει απόλυτα και στον κεντρικό ήρωα της ιστορίας. Γρήγ��ρα μαθαίνουμε οτι είναι ένας διάσημος αρχιτέκτονας, που όμως αποφασίζει να τα αφήσει όλα πίσω του για να έρθει ινκόγκνιτο στο λεπροκομείο, προσπαθώντας να ξεφύγει όσο το δυνατόν πιο μακριά από το παρελθόν του.
Το βιβλίο απασχολεί και πάλι η σχέση με τον καθολικισμό αλλά και συνολικά η πορεία της ανθρωπότητας, παρέα με τα αμείλικτα ερωτήματα της σχέσης σάρκας και πνεύματος και κυρίως της χάρης και της αμαρτίας. Εδώ όμως ο Γκρην είναι περισσότερο διαλλακτικός, ανανγνωρίζοντας από τη μιά το φιλανθρωπικό έργο της εκκλησίας, κι απ την άλλη την ευεργετική σημασία της εξελικτικής πορείας των ανθρώπων, καταλήγοντας οτι για να αναγεννηθεί, να συγχωρεθεί, και κυρίως να ολοκληρωθεί ένας άνθρωπος πρέπει να υποφέρει. Ο ήρωάς μας, όμως, δεν ανήκει, εν τέλει πουθενά, ούτε εκεί που καθένας από τους γύρω του θέλει να τον τοποθετήσει, αλλά ούτε κι εκεί που –προφανώς- επιθυμούσε να φτάσει.
Δέκατο βιβλίο του αγαπημένου μου Γκράχαμ Γκριν που διαβάζω, στα δικά μου μάτια μπορεί να μην είναι και από τις κορυφαίες του στιγμές (τουλάχιστον ως προς την πλοκή ή τους χαρακτήρες), όμως σίγουρα πρόκειται για ένα εξαιρετικά καλογραμμένο, οξυδερκές και πολυσύνθετο μυθιστόρημα, που μιλάει για τη θρησκεία, την πίστη (και την έλλειψη αυτής), τα ηθικά διλήμματα, την αγάπη και, τέλος πάντων, μιλάει για όλα αυτά που απασχολούσαν σε μεγάλο βαθμό το μυαλό αυτού του τρομερού συγγραφέα. Χάρη στην εκλεπτυσμένη και ακριβή γραφή του Γκριν, το συγκεκριμένο μυθιστόρημα ιδεών δεν είναι βαρύ και ασήκωτο, σίγουρα όμως δεν διαβάζεται εν ριπή οφθαλμού, οι ρυθμοί είναι κάπως πιο αργοί, πιο ράθυμοι, ίσως εξαιτίας και του σκηνικού όπου διαδραματίζεται η όλη ιστορία, που είναι ένα λεπροκομείο καθολικού μοναστηριού, κάπου στο Βελγικό Κονγκό. Δεν είναι ένα μυθιστόρημα που το διαβάζεις για να περάσεις καλά, αλλά ένα μυθιστόρημα που κινητοποιεί τον εγκέφαλο και το συναίσθημα του αναγνώστη, και σίγουρα ένα μυθιστόρημα που προσφέρει σε μεγάλο βαθμό μια κάποια αναγνωστική απόλαυση, λόγω της υπέροχης γραφής.
burnt-out case—a leper who is in remission but who has been eaten up by his disease.
Ο Κερύ είναι ένας διάσημος αρχιτέκτονας με μεγάλη επιτυχία στο γυναικείο φύλο. Κάποια στιγμή στη ζωή του, στο απόγειο της δόξας του, συνειδητοποιεί πως κίνητρο για όλα είναι η ματαιοδοξία του, δεν νιώθει αγάπη για το παραμικρό, οι ερωτικές συνευρέσεις που θεωρούσε ένδειξη συναισθημάτων δεν ήταν καν απόλαυση μα πράξη μηχανική. Εγκαταλείπει όσα είχε δημιουργήσει και αναζητεί καταφύγιο στο Κογκό. Εκεί θα βρεθεί σε ένα λεπροκομείο που λειτουργεί υπό τη σκέπη της Καθολικής Εκκλησίας. Προσπαθεί να ενσωματωθεί, να χαθεί και να αφομοιωθεί. Ίσως έτσι η ανικανότητα του να αγαπά γιατρεύει. Κάτω από τον κίτρινο ουρανό της Αφρικής, τον γεμάτο σκόνη, υγρασία, αφόρητη ζέστη, άνθρωποι που νοσούν από λέπρα επιλέγουν τον ακρωτηριασμό από τον συνεχή, αβάσταχτο πόνο, άνθρωποι που αποκαλούνται "καμένο χαρτί" (burnt-out case) και προσπαθούν να παραμείνουν ζωντανοί, αποχωρίζονται μέρη του σώματος τους εγκαταλείποντας την αρτιμέλεια τους. Υπάρχουν όμως και άνθρωποι σαν τον Κερύ, ακρωτηριασμένοι συναισθηματικά, που έχουν αποσυρθεί από τη ζωή, αδιαφορώντας για αυτήν. Ο Γκράχαμ Γκρην, καυστικός στα θέματα θρησκείας, μας μεταφέρει σε ένα περιβάλλον πόνου, θανάτου, όπου εκπρόσωποι του Θεού και άθεοι, θρησκευόμενοι και αγνωστικιστές, συνυπάρχουν σε μια αναζήτηση πίστης, σωτηρίας, ανιδιοτελούς προσφοράς. Η σχέση μεταξύ αρτιμέλειας και πόνου, ψυχικού σθένους και σωματικών αντοχών, πίστης και αδιαφορίας. Η αναζήτηση του εαυτού, της αγάπης εντός, του ουσιαστικού της ζωής. Ένα συγκλονιστικό μυθιστόρημα!!!
این کتابو خیلی وقت پیش خوندم. منتها اونقدر بد بود که یادم میاد شرمم اومد اون موقع بذارمش تو گودریدرز! 😅 یعنی یک مدتی بود چندتا کتاب در پیت پشت هم خونده بودم بارش رو شونم سنگینی میکرد!ا
داستانش راجع به یک سری کشیش بود تو جنگلهای استوایی آفریقا و تلاش یک دکتر برای کمک به مردم بومی و این حرفا. یک "کوئری" نامی هم بود که انگار به پوچی رسیده بود و از دین برگشته بود و خلاصه یک سری تقابلهای بین یک سری روشنفکرهای دینی و یک سری متدینهای سنتی. خیلی بنظرم کلیشهای بود و حقیقتش چیز چشمگیری به نظرم نرسید که الان بخوام تعریف کنم. اگرچه بنظر میاد که در حین ترجمه کاملا کتاب مثله شده.
Wow -- not sure why I didn't love this book like everyone else on this goodreads forum!
Maybe I didn't quite understand? I was hoping for a story rich with dripping wet details of living in the heart of africa on a leper colony, but instead i just kind of found what I felt was a superficial story of a social recluse who I definitely never connected to (let alone any of the other interchangeable characters.)
Don't know why, but it just didn't resonate with me....
Psychologically 'burnt-out' and philosophically self-seeking, a world-famous architect named Mr Querry has renounced the world to stay at a leper colony in the Congo; however, his fame still follows him. His mind seems to get better from his work in helping the Fathers design a new hospital building.
Compared to his "The Honorary Consul," this novel is nearly equal; however, I found the following amusing since they reveal how explicit and humorless Mr Querry obstinately keeps declining during his later encounter with Mr Rycker whose 'devouring curiosity' obviously irritates him:
'All the same, as I said this morning, no one would expect to find you working in a leproserie.' 'I'm not working.' ... 'It seems a waste of talent.' 'I have no talent.' ... (p. 28) '... Ever since I heard you were here I've looked forward to a conversation with an intellectual Catholic.' 'I wouldn't call myself that.' ... (p. 30) And so on.
Moreover, a talkative English journalist named Mr Parkinson has exchanged some heated arguments with him, notably tried to impress him and Father Thomas by showing off his knowledge by means of famous quotes, but unfortunately, one is mercilessly refuted, for instance:
'... No one really wants to hide from Montagu Parkinson. Aren't I the end of every man's desire? Quote. Swinburne.' ... (pp. 96-97)
Father Thomas began to answer him. 'To be quite truthful until you came ...' 'My name is writ in water. Quote. Shelly,' Parkinson said. ... (p. 99)
'It's easy enough to take risks when you are young. To think I am farther off from heaven, etc. etc. Quote. Edgar Allan Poe.' 'It wasn't Poe.' ... (p. 103)
Linguistically speaking, this dialogue admiringly denotes such a time-saving, advanced grammar response:
'How are you, Querry?' Parkinson said. 'I didn't recognize you when I met you on the boat.' Querry said, 'Nor I you.' ... (p. 100)
To conclude, from their dialogs and the contexts between Mr Querry vs the Ryckers (Mr Rycker and his young wife), I think they suggest some mismatched communications due to the want of permission to let his wife go to Luc with Mr Querry, the ambiguity of "Spent night with Q" found written in Mrs Rycker's diary found by Mr Rycker who asks Mr Querry to clarify, Mr Rycker's overwhelmed fury leads to his denial of Mr Querry's defensive words, and the jealous husband suspicious of his wife's fidelity has accusingly said why he dares laugh at him shooting him dead.
I was given A Burnt-Out Case by a philosophy professor in early January because I was feeling quite dissatisfied with my job and I was considering starting from scratch, embarking on a different track to study comparative literature. Because I knew my professor was a Catholic Christian, I assumed the book would deal with Catholicism; doubtless, the subject matter revolves around faith, but I also had the feeling that other topics were similarly present.
The book packs a handful of concurrent themes. Readers of Greene might be expecting to read about matters of faith, morality or politics. I found that the book dealt more with choice, and this central presence of decisions and alternatives that are felt in the insignificant details of our lives, yet, somehow they end up throwing us into different trajectories, sometimes independently of our intentions.
On the surface, yes, matters of faith are examined, especially Christian theology. Since faith and choice cannot be separated, in particular, the interpretation of theological subjects, I felt that the fabric of the plot is woven around the characters’ responsiveness and flexibility to their own choices.
That said, I suppose that someone with Greene’s experience and unstable life, must inevitably conclude that choosing any course of action, any form of companionship, or even any belief system must seem quite an absurd and random decision.
The book starts with an ambiguous European, later to be identified as (aptly-named) Querry, arriving at a leproserie, somewhere on the borders of a river in Congo, because the boat he embarked upon cannot go any further. It is clear from the first pages that he is in torment, for he is unable to smile, unwilling to talk, isolating his inner self to avoid facing questions he cannot reasonably answer.
As the story unfolds and Querry gets in contact with the other characters: Dr. Colin, of the dispensary, the order of the Fathers, the manager of an oil factory and his wife, the reporter and his own African servant, we are informed that he lost the ability to love: not his work, wherein he excelled as an architect, nor women, nor God.
With the contact of the inhabitants, both Africans and Europeans, of this leprosery, a mild metamorphosis occurs to him: he begins to care, even if fleetingly, for his African servant, a cured leper and he offers his services as a builder to the people working on establishing a new hospital. Though both changes are quite diluted and meager in comparison with what the others are and have been doing in this isolated enclave, yet they form the connecting threads of this plot for they rally the other characters around them. For instance, the Superior of the order of the Fathers accepts them without moralizing about them, without analyzing their motives. The rigid Father Thomas is too enthusiastic to declare victory of faith over disbelief in this man’s heart. The manager of the oil factory glorifies such acts to reflect the humility of the famous Querry; “the” Querry, as he calls him, against whom he would like to measure his intellect and his actions.
Following these “heroic” acts, as they were dubbed, by the inhabitants of the leproserie, Querry does not feel regret for doing them, but he spends a frustratingly long time, attempting to refute them, to reflect their true worth, in vain. “The innocence and immaturity of isolation” as Greene writes inevitably compels people to project their own needs, their own aspirations even, to this new change in their environment.
My own interpretation of why Querry undertook these two actions does not take me far. As plain as it may be, I assume that the drive behind these actions is the interaction that Querry felt with the people of the leproserie; in particular, with Dr. Colin, the atheist physician who thrives to cure his patients, sometimes against all reason, without the demotivation which such disappointments might bring. Dr. Colin is content with his atheism; Querry is fighting an inner struggle against disbelief.
What I liked about the book is that throughout a good chunk of it, nothing obvious happens. The inner transformations and reactions of the characters are what brought the plot to such a climactic ending. Additionally, I liked the equidistance Graham Greene takes towards his characters. I did not detect any judgement against them; I felt they were ‘honest’ characters, acting within a margin of behavior which faithfully entraps them. Perhaps this is why in the introduction to the book, Greene states that these characters are pure fiction and cannot be identified. One has the feeling that he was accurately reporting on real people he encountered.
Having finished the book, I went on to check out Greene’s biography [I am a fan of this website on writers’ biographies: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi] and I was stunned to discover how much aspects of his life, including people he encountered, are represented in his books; this one in particular. For example, Greene hated being labeled a Catholic novelist, much like Querry despised being referred to as a Catholic architect. Another point of interest to the readers of the book, Querry’s love life seems to revolve around affairs with married women, not unlike Greene’s.
I think A Burnt-Out Case is one of those books that one enjoys reading without putting them down; I finished it in a couple of days, which is quite the record for my reading habits. The absence of any dynamism in the plot allows one to enjoy Greene’s furtive comments against colonialism, (“Yet in our century , you could hardly call them fools. Hola Camp, Sharperville and Algiers had justified all possible belief in European cruelty.”), his remarks on the specificities of African culture (“Father Thomas, when you have been in Africa a little longer, you will learn not to ask an African a question which may be answered by yes. It’s their form of courtesy to agree. It means nothing at all”), and why not, his theological interpretations (“Bad things are not there. They are nothing. Hate means no love. Envy means no justice. They are just empty spaces where Yezu ought to be”)
From BBC Radio 4 - Drama: by Graham Greene Dramatised by Nick Warburton.
Directed by Sally Avens
Querry, a celebrated architect of churches believes himself burnt out: unable to feel anything for his profession, his faith or even the suicide of his mistress. He journeys to a remote leprosy in Africa: there, he hopes to live in obscurity, unconcerned with the fate of others and to die, but it seems that he may have a second chance to find both happiness and redemption. The story reflects many of Greene's own personal struggles with his celebrity as a famous 'Catholic' author and his own doubts about his faith.
3* The Third Man 4* The End of the Affair 4* Our Man in Havana 3* The Captain and the Enemy 3* The Quiet American 4* The Ministry of Fear 4* The Power and the Glory 4* The Honorary Consul 3* Orient Express 4* Monsignor Quixote 3* The Confidential Agent 4* A Burnt-Out Case TR Travels With My Aunt TR Across the Bridge and Other Stories TR This Gun for Hire TR The Heart of the Matter TR Brighton Rock TR The Tenth Man TR England Made Me TR Journey Without Maps
Yeah so... I`ve deleted this review two times until now. God really doesn`t want me to type this blasphemy. Too bad I don`t believe in him, it, whatever so I`ll type it again with more words than ever or probably less. Anyways, I loved this book. As an atheist that still ponders everything in her mind due to what she sees, this book is proof that many people try to find God just because they are lost themselves, scared in their own miserable shell of disgusting hater for themselves and others. Querry, the main character (that right now I am so tired to explain) has the gut to be a shadow in a place that people`s presumptions prevailed over reality. Therefore, this dude becomes God, a tool of their own needs and their comfortable weakness. In Luc, a place forgotten by everybody especially God, few fathers, a doctor, Deo Gratias (a leprous, 'Querry`s own walking dream'), the Ryckers and a journalist Parkinson deny their faith in a way that they think is psychologically understandable by turning a guy that is no more or less than a garbage into a saint. Just like that. Like I`ve typed oh so many times! the fathers who are lonely whenever they are together, find in Querry some kind of 'heaven-sent' to save them from their own carrion (building a monastery, listen their terrible 'life-conffesions'). Whereas, the most exaggerated are the Ryckers. Marie Rycker entangled by her husband obsession of God and rules, hides her 'adorable-young-flourishing self' in a mask of witty muteness. As Querry becomes a part of her life she puts on his back all of her misfortunes and a baby that is not his, while her husband as the best christian ever imagined that he thought he was he thinks Querry is just like him... an angel with respect for God`s rules and wantings. Be that as it may, Querry finds his own salvation in Deo Gratias who being mute didn`t let anyone open his heart for him and disappear whenever he wanted, as the main character always needed. Moreover, specimens as Parkinson (who in collation is Querry`s geminy) makes himself a living, accepting his torment and making money from it. On top of them all, Dr.Colin and his death wife are his only friends. Dr.Colin is too much of a not believer and ignorant to acknowledge even his presence and his wife is the one that puts no questions at all. The reader finds himself being as kibitzer as the others in getting to know Querry:' Will this dude find his inner peace?', 'Wouldn`t this be a too much of a happy end for Graham Greene?' well it is too much of it. You will never know Querry enough but teologically and philosophically speaking he is a part of us all. While we get to know ourselves step by step he already knows himself, as a consequence being unable to live anymore in his own skin. Finding his happiness is impossible for him, as it is impossible for others to accept each other without being blinded by their own joy. Others slowly hurting him as he hurt others... more like the 'Doomsday' of a fake God. So yeah, this is the 4th time typing this but I can proudly say: there is no God, suffer is real but it depends how we take it after splashing our faces with cold water. My opinion. This book is better than any reference book, teologically or philosophically speaking. Highly recommended.