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Stamboul Train
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Stamboul Train was the novel that made Graham Greene's name. Published in 1932, it catalogues a train journey that, a few years later, would have been impossible, a journey across Europe that was about to be changed for ever. The novel is set in a time when the Orient Express travelled from Western Europe to Constantinople across several borders, each of which that presented its own different challenge. Seventy-five years ago the continent was neither bifurcated by ideology coupled with allegiance of necessity, nor united by a desire for greater capitalist integration. It was also not a stable place, with the short-lived tensions of the Treaty of Versailles less than fifteen years old. To reflect this, Graham Greene presents Stamboul Train as a journey, almost a travelogue, with the setting of each part offering an informed relevance to the action. So we progress from Ostend to Cologne to Vienna to Subotica to Constantinople.

The book is highly cinematographic in character and is cast as a tangle of almost separate stories acted out by characters that mingle along the way. People join and leave the train. There's a love affair in a sleeper. A Jew is on his way to do deals in currants. A wanted criminal boards and leaves. A young thing is on her way to a job as a dancer. There's a political refugee fomenting revolution in his homeland. There's a lesbian journalist seeking to interview a famous popular writer. Stanboul Train is clearly not the eight fifteen from Pinner. Or maybe it is...

The action is both on and off the train as the characters' stories weave together to create a novel. And it is possible to read the book as an almost linear story, where everyone, as in a soap opera, is pre-occupied with their present to the exclusion of all other time. But Graham Greene goes further than this and gives us vignettes of political, historical and social comment. Miss Warren's interview with Savory, the writer, is an example.

Savory the writer is playing a part of being a writer. He has made his name selling books written from a Cockney point of view, at the time a euphemism for a down-to-earth, working class, perhaps therefore honest perspective. But Savory is unsavoury. His Cockney credentials are false, since he was born in beautiful Balham, far south-west of Bow Bells, and he claims an aspiration to achieve a re-creation of Chaucer's spirit to counter the gloom and introspection of modern fiction. But Savory reveals himself to be "a man overworked, harassed by a personality which was not his own, by curiosities and lusts, a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown." And Miss Warren, his interviewer, hates dealing with the impersonation that is stardom, the necessity to deal with another person as a commercial creation, a lie in the form of an advertisement. She earns a living from writing about such people, but yet she despises consumerism for its own sake, derides its pulpy products. She yearns to tell Savory that his books are rubbish, destined for the dustbin as fickle taste moves on, reorders consumer sentiment to ridicule its current eager choice.

And here, perhaps, we have Graham Greene revealing his own self-destructive, self-abusive darker side. He feels as unsavoury as Savory, producing these entertainments just to sell books, to make money, to indulge in his weaknesses. But what Greene's deprecatory self-analysis apparently did not like to admit was that he was always doing more, much more than this.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2006
In this novel, Graham Greene tells the story of seven main characters who all embark on a train journey from Ostend to Istanboul. Coral Musker, a good natured variety dancer with a bad heart, Dr Richard John, Myatt Carleston, a Jewish tradesman dealing in currants, Mr Opie, a clergyman, Janet Pardoe and Mabel Warren, a couple of lesbian women, Dr Richard Czinner, a famous socialist agitator who disappeared from Belgrade five years before and is now returning to his country to stand trial and finally Joseph Grünlich, a notorious Viennese thief and murderer.

As the story unfolds, more and more is revealed to the reader about the characters' past, some having had a rather shady existence. Mr Greene skilfully shows how different personalities react and behave in a sort of mental struggle once they are thrown together and forced to spend three days in the confined space of a railway carriage. A short, tense and disturbing novel which shows that one rarely escapes one's fate. The reader, Michael Maloney, performs a commendable act, using an wide variety of accents. An excellent audiobook.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
A sad cynicism lies at the root of Greene's dark humor in this very early (1932) novel, Greene's fourth book and the first entertainment to be written and published for a wide audience. A Jewish businessman, a lesbian journalist, her rebellious young companion, a dancer in need of a job, a Socialist physician wanted in Serbia for treason, and an Austrian thief meet and interact aboard the Orient Express on a trip from London to Istanbul (Stamboul).
Each person in this motley group hopes that some remarkable change will occur to him or her as a result of the trip, but though all eventually get their wish, fate has something devious up its sleeve for each one. These twists and turns, sometimes humorous and sometimes immensely sad, constitute the heart of the novel.
Unlike Greene's later novels, with their fully developed characters and religious themes, this novel's characters are often stereotypes, and the action is often designed simply to bring the characters down, showing that no matter what dreams or goals they may have, that ultimately they have no control over their destinies. Greene's later, much more intensely realized themes--sin and atonement, innocence and guilt, love of life and fear of death, piety and corruption, sex and religion--are missing here.
As the action unfolds and the characters are manipulated, the reader easily recognizes the "bones" of the themes which will later evolve in Greene's mature philosophical novels. As a series of tours de force, and as a glimpse into the creative process of a writer who, at this point, was just beginning to come into his own, this is an intriguing novel, loaded with insights, a fascinating and enjoyable read. Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 2008
Graham Greene's Stamboul Train is a picture of dark 1930's intrigue, set on a train journey through Eastern Europe. Greene's exploration of the cultural prejudices of the time and intrapersonal ambivalence make for an interesting read, even if the storyline itself leaves a little to be desired. Of course, the writing is as would be expected, mostly pristine although occasionally is hard to follow.

On the whole, this is a book with lots of character, making it worth a read. Although lacking in plot, it allows one to take something away of Greene's perspective on human life, much unlike many other novels which might boast an impressive storyline.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"Stamboul Train" was Greene's fourth published novel (1932) and, for that reason, is probably overlooked by many. In my view it ranks among the best. The sense of foreboding is palpable from the start and the tension builds as we follow a handful of characters on the Orient Express as it slowly heads East. None of the characters is sympathetic, or even likeable, but Greene holds the reader close as the tension builds. There are problems with the book - a slack middle section; some vaguely drawn characters; and an ending which is much lighter in tone that then rest of the novel - but it is a fine work and I highly recommend it to any Greene fan.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2015
GG presents a neat "entertainment" (his word) here, which contains some brilliant writing about railway journeys. “In the train – however fast it travelled – the passengers were compulsorily at rest; useless between the walls of glass to feel emotion, useless to try to follow any activity except of the mind; and that activity could be followed without fear of interruption." There are also flickering country stations at night rushing past in the gathering, snowy darkness, and the great rivers of Europe glimpsed for moments as grey ribbons running by the side of the tracks, all evoked in a fine poetic style that often seems too elevated for the plotlines. The stories of the train's passengers, a pretty standard motley collection of types (petit-bourgeois, criminal, political idealist, lesbian, businessman, etc.) are handled with an eye to a film, which was a flop. GG's portrayal of a Jewish character has given rise to a heated controversy about anti-Semitism between Michael Shelden and David Lodge in the NY Review of Books, available online. Make your own mind up about that one, as, indeed, you must about people's motives for, and explanations of their behaviour. Are they hopelessly idealistic or reprehensibly self-centred - or a bit of both? Bear in mind this is Greeneland, though, as the express rushes to its destination and a suitably chilly terminus in Constantinople.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 13 February 2004
This is a marvellous book. Graham Greene's fourth novel, published in 1932 must count among his best. The wonderfully fresh and modern characters and the compelling story are the reasons for its quality. We have a lesbian journalist on the trail of an exiled Serbian minister returning to his country to try and foment a revolution. We have a lonely chorus girl seeking comfort with a jewish businessman who is dogged by petty racism at every turn. The story grabs from the start. My only dislike is the rather abrupt ending.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 February 2013
As the earliest of Greene's great successes, 'Stamboul Train' definitely shows up some of the themes and some of the excellence for which the author became known - but in a slightly less polished version.

The book - covering an Orient Express journey from Ostende to Istanbul - and several characters including convicted revolutionaries, murderers, aspiring theatre dancers, businessmen, Cook travellers, lesbian journalists, etc. All of their stories intermingle between Cologne, Vienna, Subotica and Istanbul and while most of the characters are finely drawn, there are some shortcommings.

The author did not manage the same quality of research as in his later books, with the odd foreign language error, odd names for some of the non-British characters, false currency names, etc. The character of Dr. Czinner also lacks the clarity given to revolutionaries of the time in something like Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon.

While most of the loose ends are tied up rather neatly in the end, the book may still upset people used to clear endings but is otherwise not problematic in my opinion.

In spite of the mentioned points it is a well written, interesting character portrayal and a testament to a time of transition in Europe. If you are a Graham Greene fan, a must read in my opinion.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A sad cynicism lies at the root of Greene's dark humor in this very early (1932) novel, Greene's fourth novel and the first entertainment to be written and published for a wide audience. A Jewish businessman, a lesbian journalist, her rebellious young companion, a dancer in need of a job, a Socialist physician wanted in Serbia for treason, and an Austrian thief meet and interact aboard the Orient Express on a trip from London to Istanbul (Stamboul). Each person in this motley group hopes that some remarkable change will occur to him or her as a result of the trip, but though all eventually get their wish, fate has something devious up its sleeve for each one. These twists and turns, sometimes humorous and sometimes immensely sad, constitute the heart of the novel.
Unlike Greene's later novels, with their fully developed characters and religious themes, this novel's characters are often stereotypes, and the action is often designed simply to bring the characters down, showing that no matter what dreams or goals they may have, that ultimately they have no control over their destinies. Greene's later, much more intensely realized themes--sin and atonement, innocence and guilt, love of life and fear of death, piety and corruption, sex and religion--are missing here, and as the action unfolds and the characters are manipulated, the reader easily recognizes the "bones" of the themes which will later come into full flower in Greene's mature philosophical novels. As a series of tours de force, and as a glimpse into the creative process of a writer who, at this point, was just beginning to come into his own, this is an intriguing novel, loaded with insights, a fascinating and enjoyable read. Mary Whipple
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on 9 November 2013
I gave this book 4 stars because it is quite gripping and thought provoking. It evokes the era between the wars very well and the use of the train as the setting allows Greene to have his characters, who are from very different backgrounds, meet up and interact. The characters are complex and interesting and some are more likeable than others. One thing which feels out of place now is the way he writes about the main Jewish character and his place in a society which still had a strong class system. As this would be authentic at the time of writing it places the novel even more firmly in it's own period. The story itself is clever and exciting, anyone who likes classic literature might enjoy this book
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