In 1965 British author Graham Greene arrived in the Dominican Republic fresh from neighboring Haiti where he witnessed first hand the "unique evil" of Haiti's brutal dictator, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Greene was met at the airport by an enterprising New Zealand-born journalist, Bernard Diederich, whom he had befriended in Haiti on previous trips a few years earlier.
"As I watched Graham's tall, lean figure make its way through customs, his blue eyes cutting across the airport with a hint of suspicion, I wonder if, indeed, he had the power to change Haiti," Diederich wrote in a new book, 'Seeds of Fiction', Graham Greene's Adventures in Haiti and Central America 1954-83.
"Could he bring down Duvalier? And, more to the point, would
he write a book about Haiti?" Diederich said. Greene was in the prime of his writing career and had already published another Caribbean novel, "Our Man in Havana," set in Cuba. Greene called Papa Doc a "madman" telling Diederich that he had "never felt such pervasive fear in a country as in Haiti.
"When he picked Greene up at the airport he was visibly shaking, Diederich recalled in an interview. "He had a terrible dread he wasn't going to make it out. "Greene had hidden his notes, written in tiny, almost illegible script, in a hardback Victorian novel. "I don't know why he bothered to hide them because no-one could read his notes," laughed Diederich. For years later Greene still had nightmares about Papa Doc and his dreaded henchmen, the Tonton Macoutes, he added. During the next week Diederich took Greene on a trip along the border with Haiti introducing him to more characters for his book, including at an insane asylum where hopelessly ill-equipped rebels were training to overthrow Duvalier.
The resulting book, "The Comedians," is considered one of Greene's masterpieces, and infuriated Papa Doc, who banned it.
"It was his most political novel. He wrote it for a purpose. We were really at war with Papa Doc," said Diederich. When a movie came out the next year, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Alec Guinness, Duvalier banned that too. "Graham wrote the script. He told me it was another arrow at Papa Doc," said Diederich. Greene's rage at Duvalier stemmed from his first visit to Haiti in 1954 during the Caribbean nation's brief heyday as a hip destination for the jet-set before the election in 1957 of Duvalier,