No Man’s Land/The Stranger’s Hand, by Graham Greene
Greene was such a prolific author that some of his writings remained undiscovered and unappreciated for a long period of time, and such is the case here. It is quite possible that these two short stories/treatments will remind the reader of some of Greene’s more familiar work, and it is perhaps inevitable that this should be the case. “No Man’s Land,” for example, will remind many readers of “The Third Man” and the treatment here will also remind the reader of the troubled and complex personal life of the writer as well, which in the case of Greene (and so many other writers, myself included) was deeply influential on what was written as well as the approach taken to the plot. Likewise, “The Stranger’s Hand” bears a close relationship to Greene’s works like “The Captain And The Devil” and “The Fallen Idol,” where a naive young boy deals with the problem of a missing father figure. It is perhaps unkind to speculate the concerns of family and trust that fill the writings of Graham Greene, but he definitely had some concerns he turned to over and over again and the consistency of these concerns definitely prompts pondering and musing on the part of the reader.
The two stories themselves are pretty straightforward in their treatment. “No Man’s Land” is, at its heart, a tete-a-tete between three characters with complex motives and behavior. A man enters into the Soviet zone of Germany and finds that his failure to observe the norms of Catholic devotions prompt his betrayal by a beautiful woman who finds herself in a relationship with a canny Soviet intelligence agent who proceeds to torture the English man until the Englishman gains his trust and then escapes with the girl to England, where they marry and where she will be unfaithful to him and prompt his jealousy and frustration as so many other lovers of hers have known before. In stark contrast, “The Stranger’s Hand” is a story that deals with a young boy traveling to his father, who is a police agent of some kind in Trieste who finds trouble in Venice. The young boy has no photos of his father, and only some vague memories, but with the help of some colorful local characters finds himself involved in the drama of Cold War politics and of help to his father, at least in the completed version of the treatment that was continued by others.
There are several layers of concern that these particular neglected stories bring to mind for the reader. On the surface level, both of them are interesting stories that have compelling and somewhat paradoxical plots and that have concerns that appear over and over again in Greene’s body of literature concerning matters of trust and family and knowledge. The characters wrestle with faith and with their own lack of trust in government and matters of religion and power. The novels also deal with autobiographical issues within Greene’s life, including his dubious loyalty to the cause of the West against Soviet-led Communism and the author’s own lack of fidelity and honor in his own romantic relationships. Those who lack honor in their own behavior are quick to mistrust others and view them as dishonorable as well. Likewise, the stories the a typically cynical approach to the politics of the mid-20th century. While these stories, in other words, that take up together a bit more than 100 pages, are broadly similar to quite a few writings in Greene’s literature, it is still worthwhile that they should be found and appreciated on their own considerable merits nonetheless.