Home » Book Biz » BOOK BIZ — Short novella full of drama and life lessons

BOOK BIZ — Short novella full of drama and life lessons

» The Tenth Man By Graham Greene Published by Pocket Books/Washington Square Press Paperback $11.95

» The Tenth Man
By Graham Greene
Published by Pocket Books/Washington Square Press
Paperback $11.95

Graham Greene was one of the most prolific — and to my mind, one of the best — writers in the English language. Among my favorites are The Quiet American, Travels with my Aunt and Our Man in Havana. Greene was a master of the novel, short story and movie script, and of adapting his own books into movie scripts. Is there anything better than the black-and-white thriller, “The Third Man?” It was a treat to find The Tenth Man, one of his books I didn’t know about, in a used bookstore recently. That’s the thing about used bookstores, you never know what treasure you’ll uncover there.

The Tenth Man was written in the 1940s as the outline for a movie script. It got sidelined and forgotten by Greene’s work on The Third Man script. The manuscript for The Tenth Man was discovered in 1983 and published as a novella. Although these two stories have similar names, they’re not at all alike. In The Tenth Man the story begins in a WW II German prison camp where ten prisoners share quarters.

The Germans decide that three of the ten men will be executed the next morning. The prisoners draw straws in reverse alphabetical order, with the three short straws being the men who will be killed. When a wealthy French lawyer, the tenth man, draws the final short straw, he offers his wealth to anyone who will trade straws with him. A young prisoner accepts the offer so he can leave the wealth to his family.

When the war is over, the lawyer uses an alias and goes to visit ‘his’ home. He traded his wealth for his life, but pays for the exchange in unexpected ways. It’s a tragedy of the human spirit of the sort that Graham Greene mastered. The writing is pure Greene: taut, lean and forceful. There are no wasted words.

As one reviewer wrote, “Greene’s writing is phenomenal. He has few words, and packs in oceans of meaning. I’ve read other authors who publish some 10 books in one series and are still writing — and nothing happens for entire books. This is the opposite type of writing. This is the kind of book that forces you to put the book down after a chapter to contemplate what your life is like and where it is going. And each chapter runs about three pages long. I will be dwelling on the final page, the final paragraph, for a long time.”

— Lynn Lofton, mbj@msbusiness.com

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About Lynn Lofton

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