1st edition cover
|Media type||Hardcover(first edition)|
|Pages||307 pp (first edition)|
Stamboul Train (1932) is a novel by author Graham Greene. Set on an Orient Express train (in fact, the Oostende-Vienna Orient Express), it was renamed Orient Express when it was published in the United States.
The novel is one of a number of works which the author classed as an "entertainment" so as to distinguish them from his more serious literary works. In 1974, Greene wrote: "In Stamboul Train for the first and last time in my life I deliberately set out to write a book to please, one which with luck might be made into a film. The devil looks after his own and I succeeded in both aims" (from the introduction to the 1974 edition of Stamboul Train).
The novel focuses on the lives of individuals aboard the train as it makes a trip from Ostend to Istanbul. Although boarding the Oostende-Vienna Orient Express for different purposes, the lives of each of the central characters are bound together in a fateful interlock.
Myatt is a shrewd and practical businessman. Partly out of generosity, he gives the sick Coral Musker a ticket, for which Musker feels grateful and dutifully falls in love with him. She then spends a night with him in his compartment.
Dr. Czinner, an exiled socialist leader, wants to travel back to Belgrade, only to find that the socialist uprising he was anticipating has already taken place and failed. He decides to go back to Belgrade nonetheless to stand trial as a political gesture. Meanwhile, he is being followed by Mabel Warren, a lesbian journalist who is travelling with her partner, Janet Pardoe. To go back to Belgrade, he has to pretend to leave the train at Vienna so that Warren would not follow him.
When the train arrives at Vienna, Warren, while keeping an eye on Czinner, leaves the train to make a phone call to her office. It is at this time that her bag is stolen by Josef Grünlich, who has just killed a man during a failed robbery. Grünlich then promptly boards the train with her money, while the angry Warren, left behind and worried about losing Pardoe, vows to get Czinner's story through other means.
At Subotica, the train is stopped and Czinner is arrested. Also arrested are Grünlich, for keeping a revolver, and Musker, who by coincidence is with Czinner when the arrest takes place. A court martial is held and Czinner gives a rousing political speech, even though there is no real audience present. He is quickly sentenced to death.
The three prisoners are kept in a waiting room for the night. They soon realise that Myatt has just come back for Musker in a car. The skilful Grünlich breaks open the door and all three try to escape and run to the car. Unfortunately, only Grünlich is able to do so—Czinner is shot and Musker hides him in a barn. Czinner dies soon after. When Warren comes back for her story, she happily decides to take Musker back to Vienna: she has long fancied to have Musker as her new partner. But when Musker is last seen, she is having a heart attack in the back of Warren's car, and her ultimate fate is not revealed.
The Orient Express finally arrives at Istanbul, and Myatt, Pardoe and Mr. Savory (a writer) get off. Myatt soon realises that Pardoe is the niece of Stein, a rival businessman and potential business partner. The story ends with Myatt seriously considering marrying Pardoe and sealing the contract with Stein.
The central characters are as follows:
- Dr. Richard Czinner
- a doctor, school teacher, and a revolutionary socialist leader, is returning to Belgrade after years of exile.
- Josef Grünlich
- a thief, is fleeing Vienna after a bungled burglary ended in murder.
- Carleton Myatt
- a Jewish currant trader is travelling on business and faces anti-semitism from many of his fellow travellers as he travels through pre-World War II Europe.
- Mabel Warren
- a journalist, and lesbian, is following the doctor to report on his activities.
- Coral Musker
- a chorus girl, is travelling to a new job she has been offered.
The novel's minor characters include a writer called Quin Savory, who was alleged to be a defamatory representation of J.B. Priestley. In the book's final version, the Cockney novelist does not have much in common with Priestley, but the text had to be rewritten at the last moment. Looking back on the incident in the context of other problems with the libel laws, Greene explained: "In this case Mr Priestley, I am sure, really believed that this all-but-unknown writer was attacking him; he acted in good faith" (from the Introduction to the 1974 edition of the book).
Greene's "entertainments" usually include discussion of serious issues, and Stamboul Train raises topics such as racism and socialism/communism. A major theme in the novel is the issue of fidelity, the duty to others vis-à-vis duty to self, and whether faithfulness to others pays. The theme is most clearly shown in the struggles in the minds of Czinner and Musker.
The novel communicates a sense of unease which in part reflected the author's financial circumstances at the time he wrote it, and partly the gloom of the depression era in England. Greene wrote: "The pages are too laden by the anxieties of the time and the sense of failure... By the time I finished Stamboul Train the day of security had almost run out. Even my dreams were full of disquiet."
- Graham Greene's Search for Faithfulness http://webspace.ship.edu/kmlong/eapsu/vol2.pdf
- A Sort of Life, 1971, pp. 212–13
- "Orient Express (1934)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 23 October 2009.