Book Review: Journey Without Maps - Graham Greene

The first Graham Greene book I read was the Heart of the Matter. I read it in 2006. It was before I went to Japan, before I had a real job, before a lot of things that make me me happened. It’s a surprise that I’ve carried on with him as my favourite writer now for these 3 years. I feel different in so many ways, but more or less the same about his books.

By now I’ve read all his famous books. What’s left for me is just to re-read, and then read the lesser stuff, and read about him. It’s the prospect of a slow death: I’ll grow bored, I’ll find new writers, I’ll forget what it was that he did to me or that I did to him which holds me so captivated.

Journey without Maps feels like the beginning.

Greene writes about his first trip out of Europe: 350 miles’ marching through Liberia over 4 weeks in 1935. He hires dozens of men to carry his belongings, catches fever, gets lost, loses hope, drinks and drinks and as is inevitable of an experience as large as this, he is changed.

It’s clear that he is rewriting the experience into a vision of his own liking: how it should have been, no doubt. He barely mentions his cousin - it’s him alone against the wilderness. He is enamoured with the idea of the explorer; like I am with that of the writer. There is a simple strand of empathy and understanding in him that - when he writes about the conditions, when he admires the beauty of the women, when he hopes for something better for the people that he meets - shields his writing from the shifting expectations of younger generations.

It is a good book to read if you like Graham Greene, or if you like to travel improbably, or if you worry and think and worry again about Africa.