|Media type||Hardcover (first edition)|
|Pages||307 (first edition)|
Stamboul Train (1932) is the second significant novel by Graham Greene. Set on an "Orient Express" train that ran from Ostend, Belgium, to Istanbul, Turkey, the book was renamed Orient Express when it was published in the United States. Greene in fact wrote three books before this one, but two were unsuccessful and he later disowned them, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1932). Stamboul Train (1932) was Greene's first true success and it was taken on by the Book Society and in 1934 adapted as the film Orient Express.
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 the introduction to the 1974 edition 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.
The novel focuses on the lives of individuals aboard the train as it makes a three-day journey from Ostend to Istanbul (though Greene uses the old name for the city, Constantinople). The novel opens on board the ferry, on which several of the novel's major characters have travelled from England. Mabel Warren and Janet Pardoe join the train in Cologne, Germany, and Josef Grünlich joins in Vienna, Austria. Although these characters are traveling for different purposes, their lives are intertwined in the course of the journey. There are other scenes off the train, in Cologne, Vienna, Subotica, Serbia, and Istanbul, as well as Myatt's high-speed journey by car through the Serbian countryside to and from the railway station at Subotica.
A major part of the plot focuses on Carleton Myatt, a shrewd and practical businessman who trades in currants and has business interests in Turkey. Myatt is concerned that his firm's agent in Turkey, Eckman, has been cheating him. A theme of the novel is the anti-Semitism Myatt faces from many people, on and off the train, as he travels through pre-World War II Europe. Because he feels sorry for the sick dancer Coral Musker, who is travelling 2nd class, he buys her a 1st class ticket. Musker is grateful and she falls in love with him. She then spends a night with him in his compartment during which, to his surprise, he discovers that she is a virgin. After she disappears from the train he travels back to Subotica to rescue her, but fails, and barely escapes, after rescuing the crook Grünlich, under gun fire.
Dr. Czinner, an exiled communist leader, travelling on a forged British passport to Belgrade, Serbia, after five years of exile. He has worked in England as a teacher in a boys' school. He plans on leading a communist revolution, but he finds that the uprising has already taken place and failed. However, he decides to go back to Belgrade nonetheless to stand trial as a political gesture. But he has been recognised by Mabel Warren, a lesbian journalist, living in Vienna, who is travelling with her partner, Janet Pardoe. Warren believes that she is onto a major news story. Czinner pretends to leave the train at Vienna to escape from Warren.
When the train arrives at Vienna, Warren, while keeping an eye on Czinner, leaves the train to phone 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 Warren's money, while the angry Warren, left behind in Vienna and worried about losing Pardoe, vows to get Czinner's story through other means.
At Subotica, on the Serbian border 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 and was given a letter to deliver by him. A court martial is held, and Czinner gives a political speech, even though there is no real audience present. He is quickly sentenced to death. Grünlich receives a light sentence and deportation back to Vienna, where the police will be looking for him. Musker is to be deported to England.
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 prisoners escape and run towards the car, but only Grünlich is able to reach it. Czinner is shot, and Musker hides him in a barn, where he dies. However, Mabel Warren arrives at Subotica railway station in pursuit of her news story. She then takes Coral Musker, whom she has long fancied as a new partner, back to Cologne, But when Musker is last seen, she has had 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 the remaining passengers leave (Warren left it in Vienna, Czinner died in Subotica, where Musker also left it). Myatt soon realizes Janet 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, signing by his agent in Istanbul, Eckerman, to take over Stein's currant business.
The central characters are as follows:
- Dr Richard Czinner
- a doctor, school teacher, and revolutionary communist leader. He was born into a working-class family, but through the sacrifice of his parents became a physician, who served the poor of Belgrade.
- Josef Grünlich
- a thief, who boards the train in Vienna, Austria, after a bungled burglary ended in murder.
- Carleton Myatt
- a Jewish currant trader from London travelling on business to Istanbul.
- Mabel Warren
- a journalist and lesbian, who recognizes Dr Czinner, and is following him to report on his activities for a popular London newspaper. She is in love with her companion Janet Pardoe, but she is afraid that Janet prefers men.
- Coral Musker
- a chorus girl, is traveling to a new job she has been offered as a dancer in Istanbul.
- Q. C. Savory
- a popular Cockney novelist, who was alleged to be a defamatory representation of J.B. Priestley. In the book's final version, the novelist does not have much in common with Priestley, but the text was rewritten at the last moment. Greene comments on this, in the context of other problems with the libel laws, in the Introduction to the 1974 edition of his book: "In this case Mr Priestley, I am sure, really believed that this all-but-unknown writer was attacking him; he acted in good faith".
- Janet Pardoe
- is Mabel Warren's companion, who is travelling to Istanbul to stay with her uncle, Mr Stein, a business rival of Carleton Myatt.
Greene's "entertainments" usually include discussion of serious issues, and Stamboul Train raises topics such as racism and communism. A major theme in the novel is the issue of fidelity, the duty to others vis-à-vis duty to self, and whether or not faithfulness to others pays; this theme is most clearly shown in the mental struggles of Czinner and Musker.
Another recurring theme is whether people will be remembered after they are dead.
The novel communicates a sense of unease which, in part, reflects the author's financial circumstances at the time he wrote it, and partly the gloom of the Depression era in England. In 1971, 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."
A radio adaptation by Jeremy Front was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2017, directed by Marc Beeby and starring Joseph Millson as Myatt, Abbie Andrews as Coral Musker, Sam Dale as Czinner and Jane Slavin as Mabel Warren.