I finished this book yesterday (at 200 odd pages it took two days of commutes to read so was perfect commuting size) but have since started another (which I’m already 1/5th of the way through – although at 500 pages it is NOT perfect commuting size) and was reading a third earlier in the gym, so though I’d better write about the Power and the Glory sooner rather than later – the alternate use of this time would be going back to reading the second book, so don’t really want to put any more pages between my memory of this book and my post. After the Quiet American I was more than happy to pick up another Graham Greene novel, and this one completely opened my eyes to a part of history of which I was previously ignorant, in a way that a book hasn’t for quite some time (this is actually one of my favourite things about reading).
The Power and the Glory follows a priest on the run across 1930’s Mexico, in a time when Catholicism was outlawed: this priest is one of the few left in the country (perhaps the only one by the end of the novel) who has not been killed by the police or forced to marry, and there is a bounty on his head. His few chances of escape are thwarted by Catholics in need of his services (covertly) and despite acknowledging that he is not the best of priests (by his own admission he is a “whisky priest” – prey to moral vices) he is unable to refuse their requests in the name of self preservation. I had absolutely no idea that Catholicism was ever illegal in Mexico – or that it was (temporarily) stamped out so effectively (although evidentially not completely because you can’t stop people believing even if all the priests are removed – which makes it especially cruel when they are unable to practice their religion properly – baptisms, confessions etc – without them); and although obviously I could have googled it, I was unwilling to break the momentum of reading and so retained an attitude of incredulousness throughout the book.
The Power and the Glory is extremely easy to read and very well written: there is one scene which I found incredibly frustrating and distressing, in which the priest manages to find a man who takes him to buy some (illegal) wine – the seller insists he take one bottle of brandy (also illegal) and one of wine, then (through forced politeness) the priest finds himself having to offer glass after glass to his supplier, watching in horror as the wine he has so long sought after is consumed by his host and he has to make do with the brandy. I would recommend this book not just for being engaging and interesting, but also for given an insight into a slice of history I had no idea existed.