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Loving Graham Greene: A Novel [Paperback]

Gloria Emerson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 16 2001
This marvelous debut novel by former New York Times correspondent and National Book Award--winner Gloria Emerson is a witty and deeply affecting portrait of the stubborn hopes and disillusionment of a privileged woman who dreams of making a difference in the world.

The polite correspondence she shares with the novelist Graham Greene inspires Molly Benson to see him as her moral guiding light. After his death in 1991, Molly sets out to honor his memory by going on a mission with two friends to Algeria at the start of that nation's brutal civil war, intending to save intellectuals from Islamic fundamentalist hit squads. But nothing in her genteel existence has prepared her for the perilous journey on which she and her humble delegation are about to embark.

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From Publishers Weekly

In Graham Greene's short story "The Lottery Ticket," a na?ve American tries to assist a Third World country and instead sows discord and pain. The same thing happens to heiress Molly Benson, the main character in Emerson's sobering first novel. Molly has long been obsessed with the English author, and especially with his feeling for the Third World; she met Greene in Antibes in 1977, and has corresponded with him since. (The bits of Greene's letters included here are really his, a preface statesAhe sent them "to an American friend.") Molly's brother, Harry, a political journalist, diedAnobly, she believesAin Central America, in 1981. The narrative begins in 1991 with Greene's own death, which proves another turning point in Molly's life: she decides to travel to Algeria "in the hope of rescuing a few writers there." There, Molly, accompanied by a childhood friend and a British graduate student she met in a bookstore, descends upon two monks, one the brother-in-law of her mother's hairdresser. Selfish in their intended selflessness, the well-meaning Americans disrupt the monks' lives, inspire a violent uprising in the casbah and end up endangering the people they came to save. Her Algerian experiences force Molly to confront reality, and undermine her ideas about her brother and about Greene. Emerson's nonfiction includes Winners & Losers (about the Vietnam War, and a National Book Award winner) and Gaza: A Year in the Intifada. Obviously, her travels and her research inform this fascinating chronicle of Algeria's political plight in the early '90s. Greene's devotees will enjoy the ways in which Emerson's prose and plots respond to Greene'sAa touch of The Quiet American here, a bit of The Power and the Glory there. But MollyAher stubborn na?vet?, her self-importance and her eventual disillusionAwill be the focus of the readers' attention. In Emerson's hands, she is both pathetic and sympathetic. At the same time, the novel raises provocative questions about "benign" tourism, politics and charity, questions about good intentions and about unintended, disastrous effects. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Emerson has written about morally complex political situations beforeDmost notably in Winners and Losers, a study of Vietnam that won a National Book Award for nonfiction in 1978. Her latest is an ambitious but flawed novel that again tackles complex political material. Protagonist Molly Benson idolizes writer Graham Greene and his celebrated courage to confront injustice. Inspired by Greene, she travels to Algeria in the early 1990s in a misguided attempt to secure protection for an Algerian writer at a time when Muslim groups and government forces are clashing violently. Unfortunately, Molly is the novel's main weakness. Her character is often a mere caricature of the na vely idealistic, dangerously uninformed American. At other times, however, she is presented heroically, risking bodily harm for a cause she believes in. The reader is left puzzled by her personality and unsure how to respond to the principles she champions. Not recommended.
-DPatrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars doing good by greene April 30 2002
Format:Paperback
This short book packs much more of a whallop than all the self-indulgent, over-written books all too prevalent these days. I had just finished Atwood's The Blind Assasin (a book three times longer than it needed to be--assuming it needed to be at all) when I read this. What refreshment it was! It's not too short, but perfect in its economy.
It's the story of a wealthy, earnest woman seeking to do good in this troubled world by taking as her model the life and works of Graham Greene, who she met briefly and corresponded with excessively. (The aging author must have questioned the outcome of his life's work and resulting fame by this exhausting and passionate fan.) Gloria Emerson tells her story in a way that is funny, precise, and wise. A group of well-intentioned meddlars with lofty aims muddle through Algeria, attempting to liberate a politically incorrect writer. All are presented with clear eyed irony, precise and telling characterization. It's sufficient to say that their misguided innocence makes an even greater mess of things in Algeria. Read it and find more.
Loving Graham Greene made me want to return to the novels of the master. He would have been proud.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Lovely Interlude March 2 2001
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed this well-written, brief story. The tale of Molly Benson, the spacey Graham Greene-obsessed do-gooder and her ill-advised trip to Algeria is entertaining and amusing. Gloria Emerson has a knack of drawing characters with obvious and amusing flaws, without making her narrative or characterization seem obvious, contrived or hackneyed. This is a short novel, one that you can enjoy in a few gulps, but you won't get the sense of being cheated. Molly is quite a character. She met Graham Greene, briefly, once and from that meeting believed, in her own mind that she and Greene were quite close. After his death, she believes he would have wanted her to lead an expedition to Algeria and she drags a couple of her friends there. Molly lives in a world of delusion. You'll read about her and think, "This woman is a little nuts, the world is simply not as she imagines it". Her life is both funny and sad. Funny in that her delusions lead her to do amusing things, sad in that she has the delusions at all. I think, though, that most will find slivers of themselves in her, for who doesn't act believing in something that just is not true, or won't happen, out of sheer hopefulness. Emerson has given us an amusing character study and a very well-written novel. Enjoy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Loving "Loving Graham Greene" Oct. 31 2000
Format:Hardcover
In a tapestry of made-up minds, honest reporters live at risk. Gloria Emerson was such a reporter in Vietnam and in Gaza. She pays affectionate tribute to perhaps the greatest thriller writer in "Loving Graham Greene" by sending quirky heiress Molly Benson, the female protagonist Greene never attempted, to a doomed Algeria to hire bodyguards for honest journalists. Like many Greene characters, Benson is a decent person over her head amid evil, whose good works do harm. Her reporter's eye and ear won Emerson's "Winners and Losers" the National Book Award with telling details like the GI who looked in a mirror and said, "I had no idea who that was." Her writing skills turn a clever conceit into a brilliant novel. The determined Molly Benson and her companions are richly-drawn characters in a sparse world of countervailing menaces, the police state versus Islamic fundamentalism. The civil war in the shadows tightens its noose as the innocents look for ways to save the outspoken. The naïve, half-informed Pyle in Greene's "The Quiet American" was "impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance." Emerson's Benson has a capacity to understand there is a great deal she doesn't understand. She's an ironic, irritating heroine - a tall, middle-aged, ferociously liberal woman whose brother Harry was a reporter martyred in El Salvador. Molly knows every book Greene ever wrote, down to the names of the dogs, met him once by chance, pestered him with letters and undertakes her mission to carry on his spirit and Harry's after their deaths. Emerson writes with a scalpel dipped in ink, every detail as perfect as the story and characters. This funny, literate thriller is tribute to the power of the word to inspire action in the face of despair.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loving "Loving Graham Greene" Oct. 31 2000
By William F. Crandell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In a tapestry of made-up minds, honest reporters live at risk. Gloria Emerson was such a reporter in Vietnam and in Gaza. She pays affectionate tribute to perhaps the greatest thriller writer in "Loving Graham Greene" by sending quirky heiress Molly Benson, the female protagonist Greene never attempted, to a doomed Algeria to hire bodyguards for honest journalists. Like many Greene characters, Benson is a decent person over her head amid evil, whose good works do harm. Her reporter's eye and ear won Emerson's "Winners and Losers" the National Book Award with telling details like the GI who looked in a mirror and said, "I had no idea who that was." Her writing skills turn a clever conceit into a brilliant novel. The determined Molly Benson and her companions are richly-drawn characters in a sparse world of countervailing menaces, the police state versus Islamic fundamentalism. The civil war in the shadows tightens its noose as the innocents look for ways to save the outspoken. The naïve, half-informed Pyle in Greene's "The Quiet American" was "impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance." Emerson's Benson has a capacity to understand there is a great deal she doesn't understand. She's an ironic, irritating heroine - a tall, middle-aged, ferociously liberal woman whose brother Harry was a reporter martyred in El Salvador. Molly knows every book Greene ever wrote, down to the names of the dogs, met him once by chance, pestered him with letters and undertakes her mission to carry on his spirit and Harry's after their deaths. Emerson writes with a scalpel dipped in ink, every detail as perfect as the story and characters. This funny, literate thriller is tribute to the power of the word to inspire action in the face of despair.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars doing good by greene April 30 2002
By marzipan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This short book packs much more of a whallop than all the self-indulgent, over-written books all too prevalent these days. I had just finished Atwood's The Blind Assasin (a book three times longer than it needed to be--assuming it needed to be at all) when I read this. What refreshment it was! It's not too short, but perfect in its economy.
It's the story of a wealthy, earnest woman seeking to do good in this troubled world by taking as her model the life and works of Graham Greene, who she met briefly and corresponded with excessively. (The aging author must have questioned the outcome of his life's work and resulting fame by this exhausting and passionate fan.) Gloria Emerson tells her story in a way that is funny, precise, and wise. A group of well-intentioned meddlars with lofty aims muddle through Algeria, attempting to liberate a politically incorrect writer. All are presented with clear eyed irony, precise and telling characterization. It's sufficient to say that their misguided innocence makes an even greater mess of things in Algeria. Read it and find more.
Loving Graham Greene made me want to return to the novels of the master. He would have been proud.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lovely Interlude March 2 2001
By Elizabeth Hendry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed this well-written, brief story. The tale of Molly Benson, the spacey Graham Greene-obsessed do-gooder and her ill-advised trip to Algeria is entertaining and amusing. Gloria Emerson has a knack of drawing characters with obvious and amusing flaws, without making her narrative or characterization seem obvious, contrived or hackneyed. This is a short novel, one that you can enjoy in a few gulps, but you won't get the sense of being cheated. Molly is quite a character. She met Graham Greene, briefly, once and from that meeting believed, in her own mind that she and Greene were quite close. After his death, she believes he would have wanted her to lead an expedition to Algeria and she drags a couple of her friends there. Molly lives in a world of delusion. You'll read about her and think, "This woman is a little nuts, the world is simply not as she imagines it". Her life is both funny and sad. Funny in that her delusions lead her to do amusing things, sad in that she has the delusions at all. I think, though, that most will find slivers of themselves in her, for who doesn't act believing in something that just is not true, or won't happen, out of sheer hopefulness. Emerson has given us an amusing character study and a very well-written novel. Enjoy.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life imitating art... May 20 2013
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I just finished an excellent book on Algeria by Ted Morgan, entitled My Battle of Algiers: A Memoir. Gloria Emerson selected an evocative cover for her book: Albert Marquet's 1932 painting "The Bay of Algiers" which captures some of the beauty of this very troubled land. I read Emerson's work the first time, shortly after it was published in 2000. Seemingly continued to be drawn to this land, which is not "on the radar" of most Americans, I decided to give Emerson's work a re-read.

And I am much more impressed the second time around. The protagonist is Molly Benson, a "trust-fund" baby (of 40 plus years of age), living in Princeton, NJ, who denies herself many material advantages in order to be politically active, supporting an assortment of relatively obscure global causes, of the Good vs. Evil variety. As the title indicates, she is deeply attached to Graham Greene, whom she met once, and visited, in his home in Antibes. Of course she has read all his works, and they are referenced throughout her novel... so much so, that I have been stimulated to read some of the ones that I have neglected before. Benson and Greene do correspond; she serves as a "clipping service" for reviews of his works. More than a bit of "hero worship," she routinely asks herself the question: What would Graham Greene do?

In Morgan's book on Algeria, he describes how his father was killed during World War II. It wasn't the heroic circumstances that people originally reported (and no doubt preferred to believe), but was the result of a stupid accident (their plane ran out of fuel, and crashed). Likewise, in Emerson's work, she relates how Molly went to El Salvador, in the `80's, during the era of the "death squads" to pick up her brother's (Harry) body, a journalist who may have died "for the cause," or, maybe not. Emerson seems to have brilliantly captured the pathos of those who refuse to do nothing when confronted with so much that is wrong in the world, yet undertake highly improbable and ineffectual actions with the following: Molly maneuvers her way into a building in NYC where an El Salvador diplomat lives, with a can of white paint. She will dip her hand into the can, and leave a white handprint on the door, as the "death squads" do in his country... yet his door is cream-colored, so the handprint barely shows up.

Greene dies in 1991; seemingly in his honor Molly undertakes an even more unlikely intervention than Latin America; Algeria. Though she knows virtually nothing about the country, she does know more than most Americans. 1991 was the year the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) (Islamic Salvation Front) won the election, yet the ruling party, (FLN) refused to allow them to take power (technically, hold the confirming second election). This commenced the very bloody and equally savage Algerian Civil War, lasting 10 years, and leaving 40,000 to 200,000 dead. Into this morass, Molly stumbles, literally, since her shoes are full of $100 bills, in order to buy "body-guards" for Algerian writers and journalists who may be the target of the FIS. She is accompanied by her long-term girlfriend, and an ineffectual, academic British male "escort." Like Americans who go to Paris, and want to see the Bastille, they are in the Casbah, looking for the house (and corresponding memorial) where Ali La Pointe was killed.

Then, suddenly, "it clicked," and regrettably, it took me the second time around to "get it." Wasn't this one of Graham Greene's central points in The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), which I've read three times since it explained so much about Vietnam? Highly educated Alden Pyle, his head full of academic theories, working for the CIA, in Saigon, oblivious to the reality before him, causing so much harm. Likewise, Molly, and her two well-intentioned friends, blundering through the landscape of Algiers. As the British academic asks, concerning another Graham Greene story, "The Lottery Ticket": "Do you think we have been like Mr. Thriplow in Graham Greene story, meaning so well and causing such grief?"

Emerson took her own life in 2004 rather than succumb to the increasingly debilitating effects of Parkinson's disease. She knew a thing or two about how the world works, and is missed. 5-stars for this effort, the second time around.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Expected July 21 2013
By CM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was looking more for a novel such as one written by Mr. Greene. I read some good reviews of this and enjoy reading Mr. Greene's stories so I was disappointed.
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