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Stamboul Train by Graham Greene Book Review

Stamboul Train is Graham Greene’s first successful novel, published in 1932. I selected it as the ‘book set on a train’ for April’s read of the Uncorked Reading Challenge. Greene considered this novel as one for ‘entertainment’, and I admit, I did enjoy it.

Related: BritVoyage’s reflections and goals for 2021

The Premise

Aboard the Orient Express to Istanbul (referred to as Constantinople in the book) a collection of characters’ lives cross over in unlikely ways. These characters join the stories at various stations along the way; included are a Jewish businessman, a lesbian reporter, a chorus girl, a murderer, and a political exile. The story takes place across the three day journey, and character interaction is bookended by detailed description of the landscapes of the journey itself.

My Thoughts

After reading a couple of non-fiction books, and Girl, Woman, Other, it was a pleasant change to read a narrative within a more typical narrative form. Greene uses multiple POVs in the third person to tell the story, focusing mostly on five key characters: Myatt, Coral Musker, Mabel Warren, Dr Czinner, and Josef Grunlich. I found Myatt’s character particularly interesting. He is regularly referred to as the Jew, and his story depicts the growing anti-Semitic attitudes across Europe at the time, however I wondered whether Greene was perpetuating these attitudes or challenging them. Myatt is a businessman, a practising Jew, and presents a particular stereotype of Jewish people – my own daughter has Jewish heritage, and reading this book made me realise that I need to do more research to understand the experiences of Jewish people in today’s society. The particular edition of the book that I have has an introduction covering the topic of anti-Semitism in the novel, so it is a text I will read.

An aspect of the text I did enjoy was the description of the settings. You know me – I love travel writing, and describing landscapes, and I found Greene’s descriptions to be detailed and poetic. Sometimes description can seem unnecessary, taking away from the story itself, but I don’t think the descriptions in Stamboul Train do this at all.

Stamboul Train is fast paced, exciting, and worth a read. It’s a perfect choice for a holiday.

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