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Our Man in Havana  
1st edition cover
Author Graham Greene
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Heinemann
Publication date December 1958
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 273 pp
Followed by A Burnt-Out Case

Our Man In Havana (1958) is a novel by British author Graham Greene. Certain aspects of the plot, in particular the importance of secret military constructions, appear to predict the Cuban Missile Crisis, which took place in 1962.

It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1959, directed by Carol Reed and starring Alec Guinness; in 1963 it was adapted into an opera by Malcolm Williamson, to a libretto by Sidney Gilliat, who had worked on the film. In 2007, it was adapted into a play by Clive Francis.



In August 1941, Graham Greene joined the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6). An interesting sidelight of Greene's tenure in the SIS is the story of Garbo: a Spanish double agent in Lisbon, who fed his Nazis handlers disinformation, pretending to control a ring of agents all over England, while all he was doing was inventing armed forces movements and operations from maps, guides and standard military references. Garbo was the inspiration for Wormold, the protagonist of Our Man In Havana.[citation needed]

Greene developed an outline of would be the novel set in Estonia in 1938 prior to the Second World War with the English protaganist needing funds due to the extravgance of his wife rather than his daughter.[1]

Plot summary

The novel is set in Cuba during the regime of Fulgencio Batista (which was to be overthrown by Castro). James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, meets Hawthorne, who offers him work for the British secret service. Wormold's wife has left him for another man and he lives with his teenage daughter, Milly. Since Wormold does not make enough money to grant all his daughter's wishes, he decides to take the offer. For lack of any real information to send the secret service, Wormold begins to deceive them by claiming that he has a network of agents. He carries his reports to extremes by sending his clients in London sketches of parts of a vacuum cleaner, telling them that these are sketches of a secret military installation. In London nobody except Hawthorne, who alone knows that Wormold sells vacuum cleaners, doubts this report. Nevertheless Hawthorne does not tell his boss about his doubts for fear of lousing his job. To help Wormold the secret service sends him a secretary, Beatrice Severn, and a radio assistant.

Beatrice is directed to take over Wormold's contacts, which she immediately announces to Wormold upon her arrival. Her first request is to contact the pilot Raúl. Under pressure, Wormold develops an elaborate plan that would eventually result in the death of Raul. But to his surprise, Raul, a real pilot, has an accident and dies on his way to the airport. From this point forward, Wormold's manufactured universe becomes a reality and he raises to separate fact from fiction. Together, Beatrice and Wormold, try to save his fictional, now real, agents from getting killed. Meanwhile, London finds out that an unspecified enemy intends to poison Wormold at a trade association meeting. Wormold identifies the enemy, a man called Carter, and avoids getting poisoned.

Wormold has to get the list of names of the other enemy spies. Captain Segura, who wants to marry Milly, is in possession of it. Wormold gets Segura drunk in a game of draughts where miniature bottles of Scotch and Bourbon are the game pieces. The captain falls asleep and Wormold takes his gun and a microphoto of the list. Avenging the murder of his close friend Dr Hasselbacher, Wormold shoots Carter at night with Segura's weapon. Wormold sends the photograph, his one real piece of intelligence, to London—but it is overexposed and useless.

Hawthorne and the secret service are then told about the deception. Beatrice, who finally learns the truth from Wormold and loves the scam and his ingenuity, is summoned with him to London. Rather than admit they were taken in by his invented sketch, and afraid that their agency would lose all credibility with others if the affair were exposed, the top officers of the service assign Wormold to headquarters and decorate him with an OBE. Wormold and Beatrice want to marry and Milly agrees.

Cuba's attitude to the novel

The revolutionary government of Cuba allowed Our Man in Havana to be filmed in the Cuban capital, but Castro complained that the novel did not accurately portray the brutality of the Batista regime. Greene commented:

Alas, the book did me little good with the new rulers in Havana. In poking fun at the British Secret Service, I had minimized the terror of Batista's rule. I had not wanted too black a background for a light-hearted comedy, but those who suffered during the years of dictatorship could hardly be expected to appreciate that my real subject was the absurdity of the British agent and not the justice of a revolution.

Greene returned to Havana between 1963 and 1966, but his disagreement with the regime's treatment of Catholics, intellectuals, and homosexuals left him at odds with the government, and his work is not commemorated in Cuba.[2]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Baker, Christopher P (2006). Cuba (4th ed. ed.). Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel. ISBN 9781566918022. OCLC 71285263. 

See also

External links



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