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Gleefully combining the raucous humor of absurdity with slyly subtle wordplay and caustic satire, Greene entertains on every level, skewering British intelligence-gathering services during the Cold War. Setting the novel in the flamboyant atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Havana, where virtually anything can be had at a price, Greene establishes his contrasts and ironies early, creating a hilarious set piece which satirizes both the British government's never-satisfied desire for secrets about foreign political movements and their belief that the most banal of activities constitute threats to national security.
Ex-patriot James Wormold is a mild-mannered, marginal businessman and vacuum cleaner salesman, whose spoiled teenage daughter sees herself as part of the equestrian and country club set. Approached by MI6 in a public restroom, Wormold finds himself unwillingly recruited to be "our man in Havana," a role which will reward him handsomely for information and allow him some much-needed financial breathing room.
Encouraged to recruit other agents to provide more information (and earn even more money), he chooses names at random from the country club membership list and fabricates personas for them, featuring them in fictionalized little dramas which he churns out and forwards to his "handlers." Always careful to fulfill their expectations exactly, Wormold becomes a more and more important "spy," his stories become more creative, his "enemies" find him and his "agents" to be dangerous, and his friends and the real people whose names were used as fictional agents begin to turn up dead.
Skewering British intelligence for being such willing dupes of a vacuum cleaner salesman who never wanted to be an agent in the first place, Greene betrays both his familiarity with the inner workings of the intelligence service, of which he was once a member, and his rejection of Cold War politics. In a conclusion which will satisfy everyone who has ever become impatient with political maneuvering, Greene carries the absurdities of power to their limits, orchestrating a grand finale which shows British politicians at their most venal--and most ridiculous. Ascerbic in its humor and delightfully refreshing in its choice of "hero," this novel is Greene at his very best. Mary Whipple
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on 21 February 2010
Great cold war "spy" book. I loved it. Written over 50 years ago it is still funny and just so well written. I was expecting a light spy spoof, but this book is just so much more. At just over 200 pages it shows that good writers dont need 800+ pages to develop characters or tension. Highly recommended.
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on 6 January 2012
If it were not for his spendthrift daughter, Wormold may have bumbled along in Cuba until the rise of Castro would have forced his emigration back to his native soil, but his country and his offspring unknowingly conspired together to thwart such an uneventful end to Wormold's sojourn in Havana. Thoughts he might have had of whiling away the years with his drinking pal Dr. Hasselbacher, indulging the shopaholic Milly, playing checkers and selling his vacuum cleaners were soon to be put to flight. Hawthorne from MI6 made him an offer he couldn't refuse. If its reports they want, and are willing to pay for them, reports they shall have. Wormold takes to writing fiction like a duck to water and applies his skills to his new employment.

The sinister machinations of Captain Segura and the refreshing Beatrice add to the above to create a story well worth reading.
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on 9 February 2002
A marvellous story about a vacuum cleaner salesman caught up in the world of espionage, purely to buy his daughter a pony for her birthday. The characters are so real that you feel that you know them personally, and the style of writing employed by Graham Greene is an example of what can be done with the English language in the hands of a truly great writer. The chapter in which the British secret service peruse the sketches sent from Havana by Wormold is one of the funniest I have ever read.
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on 4 April 2002
Our Man in Havana takes place in the late fifties, during the Cold War. It tells the story of Wormold, an English, divorced vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba.
Sales are not very good these days, and when his 17-year-old daughter's latest caprice turns out to be a horse, he knows he can't afford it. That's when he's accosted in the toilets of a local bar by Hawthorne, a cryptic man with an interesting offer: 300$ a month, to become a secret agent. All he has to do is recruit sub-agents and send regular reports to London.
Wormold uses the money to buy presents for his daughter, sending fake reports and sketches of an imaginary war machine from vacuum cleaner designs. Very pleased with his work, the MI6 decide to send him a secretary...
This was my first encounter with Graham Greene's work. I read this book as a background preparation for the Cambridge Proficiency exam, and even though it's not a genre I am used to (I usually read fantasy), I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly. The story is timeless and could as well have happened nowadays, it's funny and sarcastic, and the characters are extremely human. A great experience!
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on 17 November 2010
I found it very interesting reading, on my rather old battered copy of this book, that Graham Greene himself rated `Our Man in Havana' as not a novel but as an entertainment. Having now read it I can see what he means I think. A novel is a novel but this isn't the kind of book that you might expect from Graham Green because its not exactly literary even thought it's actually very well written. In fact you would almost think that `Our Man in Havana' was a pastiche of a James Bond novel whilst also being a comedy of errors in some ways. Hmmm, hard one to describe, maybe a little sharing of the story will help.

`Our Man in Havana' is of course set in Cuba under the regime of Batista and our protagonist Wormold, who's wife has left him alone with his daughter who is rather high maintenance in more ways than one, is selling vacuum cleaners for a living with the odd drink or five with his friend Dr Hasselbacher. This all changes however when he meets Hawthorne, a man from British Intelligence who is looking for a new agent and who decides that Wormold is the perfect man for the job. However Wormold isn't the perfect man or agent for the job, though he thinks the money is brilliant and to keep it coming starts making up agents, their storylines and tales of espionage in the depths of Cuba. Things start to get a little more complicated for Wormold, and all the more entertaining for the reader, as the things he makes up start to actually happen.

I did enjoy this book as a read, it didn't blow me away liked I hoped it would. I liked the idea of your average man becoming a hopeless spy, yet really all we had was Wormold telling lies and creating mild deceptions for his own gains which kind of put me off him. I know that shouldn't matter but it did a bit. In fact it was really his daughter Milly and British Intelligence secretary Beatrice that sort of saved the book in many ways, apart from a very funny moment involving vacuum parts which tickled me. I don't know who told me it was a comedy because though in parts it's farcical it didn't ever really make me laugh out loud, well actually maybe on occasion in the scenes with Wormold's daughter Milly in them.

I did find it interesting learning afterwards that Greene had actually been part of MI6 in the 1940's and also that he seemed to pre-empt the Cuban Missile crisis in some ways, well more the trouble in Cuba than anything specific though. I was definitely entertained with `Our Man in Havana' yet I don't think I was ever well and truly sold on it.
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on 2 May 2000
His daughter was at an expensive age. She wanted a horse; she wanted the tack; she wanted it housed at the country club. And what father can refuse his daughter. She had lost her mother to a rich American in Miami. He was the sole representative of Phastcleaners in Batista's Cuba: a living, but not a glamorous one.
But the times were changing. The Cold War dominated East-West relations and who knew which way the wind would blow in the Caribbean? Already the Communist rebels were striking at Batista's dictatorship - how long could it last? How long before the merchant-king expatriates would need to return to "home soil"?
So when shy and lame Mr. Wormold agreed to become MI6's "man in Havana", how was he to know the consequences of his actions? Was it greed - $300 per month plus salaries and expenses for all his sub agents - that led him to invent his spy ring? Or was it concern for his daughter who was growing up. Growing away. Who needed to attend a finishing school and needed a dowry? Or was it just Cuba?
Or was it the ignorance of the mastermind's behind the Great Game who saw things where they weren't. Who needed to justify their jobs. No one likes to their life or lifestyle threatened.
Not even Mr. Wormold...
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on 13 February 2013
Plenty of positive reviews already, nothing more to be said really. It is a short but terrific read. Are affairs such as this completely out of date? Is there any redolence of "Weapons of Mass Destruction"?, for me there certainly is.

Tony Blair was a 'honest sort of a guy' I think he said, so perhaps he too saw what he wanted.

If you enjoy this, I recommend the film (Alec Guinness in the lead). A black and white gem shot in Havana.

And then of course most of the rest of Graham Greene's work......
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I’ve read Greene’s "The Quiet American" three times. He was amazingly prescient in depicting the complete inability of the CIA’s agent, Alden Pyle, to see the reality of Vietnam that was before him. Rather, Pyle chose to view everything through the prism of the Ivy League academic theories of Professor York Harding. My copy of “Our Man in Havana” came with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens. In the intro, Hitchens indicates much the same, including: “…Greene seemed to have an almost spooky prescience when it came to the suppurating political slums on the periphery of America’s Cold War Empire.” And, “… the mandarins of MI6 are eager to deceive themselves, and to be deceived, and they get no more than what they ask for.’

Cuba is again “topical,” as the United States has finally decided, after more than half a century, to “kiss and make-up” with the Communist government led by Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, who seized power from the dictator, Fulgencio Batista shortly after “Our Man in Havana” was first published. Greene knew a thing or two about the British intelligence services, since he once worked for them, recruited during the Second World War, by his sister, who worked for MI6. His initial posting was in Sierra Leone. His novel is a wonderful slap-stick farce… that, in all likelihood, accurately depicts the meaningless levels of intrigue, and the pre-disposition of the “intelligence” leadership to hear, as Simon and Garfunkel once famously sang: “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards all the rest.”

Jim Wormold is a failing British vacuum cleaner salesman, working in Havana. He has yet to sell one model of the company’s latest product, the “Atomic” (vacuum cleaner!). He is estranged from his wife, and is attempting to raise his daughter, Milly (Seraphina), now in her teen-age years. She is both a devote Catholic (the father is not), as well as more than a bit of a hooligan. She also aspires to higher economic levels in society, commencing with the ownership of a horse. Her aspirations are clearly beyond Wormold’s ability to fulfill, and thus he is an easy “mark” that can be recruited by Hawthorne, an MI6 operative. In farcical style, the recruitment takes place in the bathroom of a restaurant, with the water running (to make it more difficult to pick up the sound on the microphones!).

Wormold seems to intuitively understand the “great game,” and simply makes up all the intelligence, including the “agents” that are working for him. He pockets their salary and expenses, thereby funding the needs of his daughter. Meanwhile, back in London, Hawthorne’s boss, a senior MI6 operative, believes he has an intuitive understanding of Wormold, one of the “merchant princes” of the British Empire. There are a number of other well-wrought characters, including Captain Segura, a Ministry of the Interior “enforcer” of the Batista regime. (“only certain classes of people are subjected to torture…”)

Real life imitating fiction? Greene has produced a satirical masterpiece, and if the reader considers it “over the top,” one need only consider the crazy machination involving the presentation of “intelligence” on Iraq’s purported “weapons of mass destruction” including those famous aluminum tubes, based on the testimony of a defector with the ever-so-apt code name of “curveball.”

In ways, Greene’s novels on Vietnam, Cuba and Haiti constitute a trilogy on imperial folly. I will soon read the third volume, The Comedians, on Haiti. As with other novels of Greene, alcohol is also a main “character.” A pithy summation of Greene’s view of life is provided by Hitchens: “The human condition seen through the bottom of a glass darkly…” “Our Man in Havana” is a most memorable novel. 5-stars, plus.
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VINE VOICEon 12 July 2015
After some patchy experiences of reading modern classics, this book restored my faith in darned good writing. A flashback to the beginnings of the atomic age and the Cold War but told as, 'an entertainment' to quote Mr Greene rather than an exercise in doom-mongery. Plenty of satire on the incompetencies of the SIS.

A story of the triumph of hope, love and family ahead of jingoism. Some great humorous descriptions of the relaxed life in pre Castro Cuba a place that 'turns out human beuaty on a conveyor belt'. It is not soppy, there are some dark undertones and don't misread it as a political anti-Castro effort. The real target is the bungling amateurishness of the British secret services.

Nice and short at about 200 pages. It gets you sucked in and races along with increasing dollops of bewilderment and irreverance.
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