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.
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.
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.
Who would enjoy this book
Fans of novels set in the first half of the 20th Century, and those who enjoy a good, traditional narrative.
Stamboul Train is fast paced, exciting, and worth a read. It’s a perfect choice for a holiday.
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