The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene is the story of a Catholic Priest living in 1930s Mexico as the government seeks to crush the Catholic Church in Mexico.
I think that one of the strongest signs that Graham Greene is an incredible author is that he manages to write a book that is as bleak as The Road without the use of any apocalypse or cannibals to properly highlight the bleakness. I don’t think many people would argue that Greene isn’t one of the best authors of the 20th century, but it’s amazing how compelling he manages to make a story that is essentially a look at a barren, miserable land full of brutal fascists and broken poverty stricken peasants who have nothing to look forward to beyond pain and death.
Greene turns a story that could easily be a flat parable about the Church and the State into a living debate with a deeply human protagonist. My initial worries that the story would follow the trope of a fallen member of the clergy finding redemption through his struggles against evil were unfounded. Instead I got a complex moral play about the nature of faith and ideology, told in a way that made me actually sympathize and worry for the soul and person of a Catholic priest. While the plot itself functions primarily to move the priest to different places where we can get little glimpses of the people of the region and how the misery of life has soaked into their lives, Greene does such an amazing job of characterizing everyone and capturing their core humanity that it doesn’t detract from the story. Even the vicious fascists and craven informants are still people, with needs and wants and feelings and one of the key struggles of the story is to learn to love these people as well. No one is perfect, certainly not the drunken, selfish priest who strives against his nature on behalf of the church, and the glimpses of the effect that this world has on the children is especially heartbreaking.
So this is a bleak book full of pain and oppression and dying hope, but it is one that beautifully captures the people who have ended up in this awful place. Greene describes his world simply and vividly and develops a conflict of struggle and belief that is poignant and wonderfully effective.