”The fever would not let me sleep at all, but by the early morning it was sweated out of me. My temperature was a long way below normal, but the worst boredom of the trek for the time being was over. I had made a discovery during the night which interested me. I had discovered in myself a passionate interest in living. I had always assumed before, as a matter of course, that death was desirable.
It seemed that night an important discovery. It was like a conversion, and I had never experienced a conversion before. (I had not been converted to a religious faith. I had been convinced by specific arguments in the probability of its creed.) If the experience had not been so new to me, it would have seemed less important. I should have known that conversions don’t last, or if they last at all it is only as a little sediment at the bottom of the brain. Perhaps the sediment has value, memory of the conversion may have some force in an emergency; I may be able to strengthen myself with the intellectual idea that once in Zigi’s Town I had been completely convinced of the beauty and desirability of the mere act of living.”Graham and Barbara Greene leaving for Liberia
Graham Greene age 31 decides that he needs to go hike around in Liberia to find material for his next book. Now I’m not sure why he picks Liberia, maybe because most of it is uncharted and the maps that are available have wide chunks of Don’t Know What the Frill is in There.
The explorer’s bug seem to be rooted in every Englishman’s soul and in the case of this book also in an Englishwoman’s soul as well. Graham had asked literally everyone he knows to go to Liberia with him. They all turned him down. In what seems to be a moment of mutual inebriation at a wedding he asks his first cousin Barbara Greene aged 27 to go with him.
She says yes.
The next morning they are both thinking OMG. Despite a bit of cold feet by both parties when the day comes to disembark Barbara is with him. Now unknown to Graham, and even at this point unknown to Barbara, she is going to write a book about her experiences on this trip. She keeps a diary; and methodically, even when her head is numbed with fatigue records her impressions of the day. In her book Graham is the central character, a man to be admired, a towering figure on the trail in front of her. In his book she is a shadowy figure, a mere ghost against the canvas, and referred to only occasionally as cousin and never by her name. There must have been some self-preservation raising a few flags in Graham’s mind when he decided to allow his cousin to come with him. As it turns out he becomes very sick and the young, pampered cousin steps up and does what is necessary to keep the expedition moving back towards the coast to save her cousin’s life. A Very Earnest Looking Graham Greene
They stop off in the Canary Islands on the way to Liberia and to Graham’s mortification they are showing a film based on one of his books. ”The cinema in Tenerife was showing a film which had been adapted from one of my own novels. It had been an instructive and rather painful experience to see it shown. The direction was incompetent, the photography undistinguished, the story sentimental. If there was any truth in the original it had been carefully altered, if anything was left unchanged it was because it was untrue. By what was unchanged I could judge and condemn my own novel: I could see clearly what was cheap and banal enough to fit the cheap banal film.”
I rarely run into an author that is happy with the adaptation of his work to film. With that all said and understood there has been many a writer who has survived by the generous checks that Hollywood has sent them usually because it is an astronomically larger number than what they received off of books sales. Writers need to ignore the film, enjoy the money, and write another book. It is evident that this film was a burr under his skin because Graham brings it up again. ”To my relief, because by contract my name had to appear on every poster, it had kept to the smaller shabbier cinemas, until now it was washed up in Tenerife, in a shaded side street behind an old carved door like a monastery’s. This was what made it an agreeable acquaintance; it hadn’t the shamelessness of success; it might be vulgar, but it wasn’t successfully vulgar. There was something quite un-Hollywood in its failure.”
Graham decided to follow, roughly, the path of another English explorer and colonizer Sir Alfred Sharpe. They start in Freetown, Sierra Leone which GG has not seen the last of that place as he will find himself assigned there with British Intelligence during the war. They go up through French New Guinea and down through the heart of Liberia, back to the coast. The Map of the Path
Their porters when asked how far the next village was always responded with...TOO FAR...TOO FAR. An endless series of elaborate negotiations with the hired help tested GG’s patience to the breaking point. He had to get increasingly clever to keep everyone motivated to keep moving down the path.
It is a brutal hike with dirty huts the best they can hope for at the end of the day. Insects are nibbling at them the whole trip. They had to keep their shoes on the whole time or a jigger bug would get under your toenail forcing a person to do a rather painful version of the jitterbug. Rats are an epidemic and despite their best efforts they invade all of their personal effects eating anything that is left out. They encounter people suffering from horrible diseases. The one most mentioned is venereal diseases. They don’t have the proper medication these people need, but they give them epsom salts and bandage their weeping sores as best they can.
There are many times when they stop for the day when they decide the only thing they can do is get drunk. Barbara probably drank more whiskey on this trip than she does for the whole rest of her life.
There are pleasant moments bordering on the erotic. Graham records a moment when they are on the train before they disappear into the wilderness. ”The train stopped at every station, and the women pressed up along the line, their great black nipples like the centre point of a target. I was not yet tired of the sight of naked bodies, or else these women were prettier and more finely-built than most of those I saw in the Republic. It was curious how quickly one abandoned the white standard. These long breasts falling in flat bronze folds soon seemed more beautiful than the small rounded immature European breasts.”
They get plastered with a King who is surrounded by the tangled half naked bodies of his numerous wives and even more numerous daughters. This is one time when I felt that Barbara out wrote Graham. Her recording of the event is sizzling and I included it in my review of her book. Things get rather odd as the palm wine and the whiskey make the rounds. Palm Wine with a Whiskey chaser”The favourite daughter could speak a few words of English: her thigh under the tight cloth about her waist was like the soft furry rump of a kitten; she had lovely breasts: she was quite clean, much cleaner than we were. The chief wanted us to stay the night, and I began to wonder how far his hospitality might go.”
A little wishful thinking on GG’s part, but the King was quite taken with his cousin. A bit of bartering might have made for an interesting night for all parties.
Liberia was established by the United States as a colony for former African-American slaves. What I didn’t know was that Sierra Leone, the neighboring country, was also a colony for free blacks by the English Empire. Like most third world countries corruption is rampant. The former leader of Liberia had just been ousted prior to the Greene Expedition for selling his own people into slavery. GG sums up the situation. ”They wore uniforms, occupied official positions, went to parties at Government House, had the vote, but they knew all the time they were funny )oh, the peals of laughter!), funny to the heartless prefect eye of the white man. If they had been slaves they would have had more dignity; there is no shame in being ruled by a stranger, but these men had been given their tin shacks, their cathedral, their votes, and city councils, their shadow of self-government; they were expected to play the part like white men and the more they copied white men, the more funny it was to to the prefects. They were withered by laughter; the more desperately they tried to regain their dignity the funnier they became.”The First Edition
What a wonderful opportunity for me to read two different accounts of the same trip. Barbara’s book (Too Late to Turn Back) stays more with surface observations, but still she exhibits remarkable astuteness at times. GG’s book is bulked up with history, memories from other events in his life, and more philosophical observations of his state of mind. I was a little disappointed that GG does not give Barbara credit for her courage in stepping up when he becomes too sick to function. Maybe he felt it would be a distraction from his conception of the book or maybe he didn’t want to be seen as having a moment of weakness. He does mention he was sick in his book, but certainly does not let on just how sick he was. When he slipped into a coma Barbara was making funeral plans in her head. I would suggest that if anyone is interested in reading both books to read Barbara’s book first. I was much more hyper aware reading GG’s book of any brief allusion to this shadowy cousin. It was as if I’d already taken the trip myself with GG and; therefore, was able to enjoy events as he relates them as if I had shared the experience. My Too Late To Turn Back by Barbara Greene Review