Stamboul Train by Graham Greene

Vintage Digital/ 2010/ e-book/ Print length: 216 pages/ My own copy/ 4*

Stamboul Train was first published in the UK in 1932 and was renamed Orient Express when it was published in the USA. My copy is an e-book, with an Introduction by Christopher Hitchins.

I read it in February and didn’t find time to write about it then, so this is just a mini review that really only skates over the surface of the novel. I enjoyed it, set in the early 1930s, about a three day journey on the luxurious Orient Express travelling from Ostend to Constantinople (Instanbul or Stamboul), via Cologne, Vienna and Belgrade.

Greene weaves a web of subterfuge, murder and politics around his characters, including Carleton Myatt, a Jewish businessman, who trades in currants; Coral Musker, a dancer, a chorus girl on her way to join the Dunn’s Babies dance troupe in Constantinople; a journalist, Mabel Warren, a lesbian who drinks too much; Dr Czinner, a Yugoslavian on his own mission of revolution (as Hutchins describes it), a dissident communist leader, travelling under the name of schoolteacher Richard John – Mabel has recognised him as Dr Czinner and is after a scoop from him for her newspaper; and Josef Grünlich, a murdurous burglar. .

It’s a dismal book in some respects. Written in 1931, it reflects the anti-Semitism of the period, although I think Greene’s description of Myatt’s generosity towards Coral in giving her his berth in a first-class sleeping compartment shows some sympathy towards Jews. Having said that, I also think the characters as a whole are stereotypical, but the tension that he builds around them is palpable.

Greene’s storytelling saved the book for me, with descriptions of the train itself and the glimpses of the countryside as the train speeds along – as well as Myatt’s dramatic car journey through the snow-laden countryside to and from the railway station at Subotica on the Yugoslavian border. Written just as the Nazi party was preparing to take power in Germany there is a sense of unease throughout the novel.

5 thoughts on “Stamboul Train by Graham Greene

  1. You know, Margaret, I’ve always meant to read this one. Among other things, I wondered what this perspective on the train might be like (as opposed to, say, Christie’s in Murder on the Orient Express). I’m glad you found the storytelling good, even if it wasn’t an upbeat story.

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    1. It is so interesting, I think, to compare Christie’s book to Greene’s. I didn’t attempt it in this post (I found it hard enough to write as it is without giving away any spoilers), but when you think that her book was published just 2 years after his I do wonder if she had read it. Apart from the setting the two books are very different – there is no murder on the train in Greene’s book for example and no detective to sort out what happened etc. It’s been years since I read Murder on the Orient Express, so I would have to read it again before comparing the two. And it’s most frustrating that I cannot find my copy of it!

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  2. This one is probably my least favorite Graham Greene book. For me, it was just a depressing and unsatisfying read. But I’ve loved many of his other books. 🙂

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  3. I mean to read more Greene and the stereotypes, the difficult time in history and the strength of his writing and storytelling all make this sound very interesting, thank you!

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