“The Tenth Man” by Graham Greene
S7 Ep 5
Host: Frank Lavallo
Readers: Katie Smith and Peter Toomey
Author: Graham Greene
Year of Publication: 1985
Plot: During World War II, a group of men are held prisoner by the Germans, who determine that three of them must die. This is the story of how one of those men trades his wealth for his life - and lives to pay for his act in utterly unexpected ways.
Frank: Hello and welcome. I’m Frank Lavallo and this is Novel Conversations, a podcast about the world’s greatest stories. For each episode of Novel Conversations, I talk to two readers about one book; and together, we summarize the story for you. We introduce you to the characters, we tell you what happens to them, and we read from the book along the way. So, if you love hearing a good story, you’re in the right place.
This week's novel conversations is about the novel The Tenth Man by Graham Greene and I’m joined by our Novel Conversations readers, Katie Smith and Peter Toomey. Katie. Peter. Welcome.
Katie & Peter: Thank you. Thanks Frank. Glad to be here.
Frank: Glad to have you both. Before we get started, I want to give a quick summary about The Tenth Man published by Graham Greene in 1985. This is a story of a French lawyer imprisoned by the Germans near the end of World War 2. During his imprisonment, the time comes when he must face the most difficult decision he's ever had to make. He must choose between his life and his family fortune. The choice he makes and how that choice affects the others in his world make up the story of The Tenth Man by Graham Greene.
Frank: Peter as we start our story, we meet a group of men imprisoned by the Germans, by the Gestapo.
Peter: The first two characters that arise are the timekeepers. There's a mayor of a town and he has a solid gold watch that he keeps on a chain.
Frank: We're told he's the mayor of Broome. But we don't ever really get his name. Okay so we'll just call him the mayor (Peter: Right.)
Peter: And so, the mayor is the keeper of this watch. When we meet him, he's winding his watch, looking at the time. Then we find that there's another gentleman in the cellblock and his name is Pierre and he has a wind-up alarm clock. The first two chapters entail these two going back and forth over who's the better keeper of the time and it seems when the novel first starts out, that these two are going to be the main players and perhaps this novel is going to unfold somewhere around a power struggle between who is the dominant force in this prison cell. And towards the end of the second chapter, the mayor forgets to wind his watch, and this becomes a scandal for them.
Frank: You call these two men the timekeepers… and they do seem to keep themselves apart from the others. They feel that maybe they're a little better or a little removed from the rest of the group because they are the keepers of the time?
Peter: I think so. I think the fact that these two had a clock and they kept the time for all the other prisoners; and the other prisoners depended on them elevated them in status and made them short of the uber class compared to the other prisoners there.
Frank: Actually, there were two other keepers of the time in this prison cell.
Katie: Yes, actually, prior to the time we joined this novel, under rather unfortunate circumstances there had been two characters that had timepieces and I believe they had wristwatches. They were taken out and they were executed in the way everyone knows what happened to them… because the prison guards actually ended up wearing their wristwatches.
Frank: So not only do our two first characters feel themselves separated from the rest of the prisoners because they have time pieces and because they are time keepers but they might even feel themselves a little bit marked for execution because of the fact that they are keeping the time.
Peter: The mayor does make that point right. He goes to give the watch to someone else because I think he assumes that he is going to be one of the next executed.
Frank: All right. Let's continue on introducing some of our other characters. After these two chapters we've talked about, we finally meet who I'm going to call for now, the hero of our novel. Whether he's a hero or not we'll talk about a little bit later. But tell me a little bit about our main character, Jean Louis Chavel.
Katie: He's actually an attorney. The character really is a lot of introspection and him thinking about how he fits in with the group of individuals. So, he walks around asking people if they know of his hometown. And so, it very much centers around the fact that he's an attorney, he's educated, he's a man of property; and so he's trying to make that connection with the other prisoners and failing to do so.
Frank: Right. He never does make the connection with the prisoners because he is of a station, perhaps above most of them.
Katie: There's also something with the mayor and he can't understand why the mayor has animosity towards him.
Frank: And Peter I think if I remember correctly while the mayor and Pierre are arguing over whose time piece keeps the best time at one point the mayor says, ‘Oh your clock is running slow!’ Cheval just sort of pipes up and says ‘Well yesterday you said your clock was running fast.’ And it’s at that moment that the mayor takes a disliking to Cheval.
Peter: It seems to me, that's symptomatic of why no one seems to like Cheval because when he tries to approach the other prisoners, as Katie was saying - to make conversation - his thoughts are that whatever he says sounds stilted almost interrogatory, like he's questioning a witness.
Frank: He can't help being the lawyer. (Peter: Right, exactly). And Katie, I understand you have a great passage to read that describes just how Cheval got along with the prisoners.
Katie: Yes, I think this will give people a flavor. Here’s the quote: “For that for more than a week, he had tried his best to behave like a natural prisoner. He had even forced his way into the card parties. But he had found the stakes beyond him. He would not have grudges losing money to them but his resources the few notes he had brought into the prison and had been allowed to keep her beyond his companions means. And he found the stakes for which they wished to play beyond his own. They would play for such things as a pair of socks and the loser would thrust his naked feet into his shoes and wait for his revenge. But the lawyer was afraid to lose anything which stamped him as a gentleman a man of position and property. He gave up playing although in fact he had been successful and won a waistcoat with several buttons missing. Later in the dusk, he gave it back to its owner and that stamped him forever and in all their eyes, he was no sportsman. They did not condemn him for that. What else could you expect of a lawyer.”
Frank: So basically, he's trying. They don't abuse him, but they haven't really welcomed him into their group.
Katie: I’d say that’s accurate.
Frank: All right, Peter. There does come a moment depending on whose clock you want to listen to… it was either 10 minutes to midnight or 10 minutes after midnight… when they all hear some shooting… and the next morning that shooting brings some dire consequences.
Peter: The next morning, a young Gestapo officer, (Frank: A very young Gestapo officer). Right. Who's described by the author is quite unsure of himself, comes in with a prepared speech about how there were murders by partisans in the town that night and that retribution is gonna have to be exacted for that. Three people were killed in town. They're going to execute three of their prisoners in return.
Frank: And Katie, how does this Gestapo officer decide to pick the three men that are gonna be executed?
Katie: He actually doesn't pick them. He leaves it to the prisoners to choose amongst themselves which then leads to the whole quandary… How do you go about choosing who dies?
Frank: And what do they eventually come up with as a plan? (Peter: They are going to have a draw.) And that's where our title comes from. The Tenth Man.
Peter: Well, if they have 30 fellows in the prison and three are gonna be executed then your chance of losing the draw would be one and ten, hence theoretically every tenth man in that group is going to die.
Frank: But before they decide how they're gonna choose which men to die, they discuss who should be eligible.
Peter: Right. The mayor folds back into the story, as does Pierre, because he suggested only single men draw that married people presumably because they have families to go back after the war and take care of should not be eligible. Pier interjects.
Of course you're married, assuming that the mayor is doing this for a self-serving purpose.
Frank: But Katie, the mayor is not the married one.
Katie: Actually, Pierre’s the married man.
Frank: But Peter, once they decide that all 30 prisoners are gonna be eligible. How did they proceed from there?
Peter: They draw slips of paper. There's an elderly gentleman among the prisoners, he's a clerk by trade so he takes out a pencil, piece of paper - I believe a letter from his wife and kids - reads it one last time and shreds it into 30 pieces. Puts three X marks on three of the papers, fold them up, puts them in the shoe. The older gentleman's name is Le Notre. When they start to pick, the first man that picks was out and immediately he's got an X which casts a different tone on the whole picking, because the author points out that there's no ability now for any of the prisoners to show relief when they don't pick an X marked because you don't want to laugh at a condemned man and he's fairly morose about his situation. The next one to pick an X is Le Notre the clerk. And he's fairly philosophical about the whole experience and goes to sit next the first man who picked an X.
Frank: And Katie, while this is going on, we're in the mind of our main character John Louis Cheval… he's doing the math.
Katie: Exactly. As people pick an X then he's ashamed but still somewhat elated that it's not him.
Frank: But then finally he makes his pick. And sure enough he's one of the three men that are gonna be executed.
Katie: And interestingly enough he makes his pick and then he's afraid that he picked the wrong one. He put the piece of paper back. Someone actually accused him of cheating and it came out that no he couldn't have been cheating because the second paper that he picked actually is the one that had the X on it.
Frank: And now he's called over to sit with the other two condemned men and they begin to commiserate with each other.
Peter: I don't know if you'd say they commiserate so much. The first two are sort of resigned to their fate. La Notre hits the ground next to him and says ‘come sit with us’ Cheval starts to use his wits as to how he can extricate himself.
Frank: See now you said ‘use his wits’… I was gonna say turns to his lawyer skills and begins the negotiations. (Peter: OK, yes, that would be a fair assessment.) What are the negotiations he starts?
Peter: Well, he has three hundred francs in his pocket that the Germans let him retain when he was into the prison. So, he offers the 300 francs to anyone that's willing to take his place and he gets no takers. And in his mind, he's telling himself, ‘You're selling yourself down the river; you're chickening out (for lack of a better term) Go all in (to Quote a Texas Hold'em analogy). So, he says, ‘Everything I have: my house in Brynnack and all my property, my stocks, every red cent I have to anyone that will take this offer.’
Frank: So, he's given up quite an inheritance. (Peter: Sure.)
Katie: He's thinking about the shame of what he's done. He actually thinks about the fact that he had made very little of himself and most of the worth he's willing to get rid of is his families.
Frank: So, Peter to use your term ‘once Cheval goes all in’ he actually gets a taker.
Peter: Yes, he does.
Frank: And this introduces a new character to us John Viay (V.A.).
Peter: John V.A. is a young man of modest means. He has a mother and a sister, he had left school and I believe he may have worked for the railroad because Cheval asked him if he's ever been on the railroad towards his neck of the woods where his estate is. And the young man says no. But he jumps to the floor and we learn that he sees a chance here to make himself a rich man and die a rich man even if his own fortune is gonna be fairly short lived.
Frank: Katie, were you surprised to have someone come up and take this offer?
Katie: It was rather surprising but the character that they picked is coughing and probably was not in good health and was thinking of his family and you know I may not be around very much longer anyway so how can I do something to help my mother and my sister.
Frank: So being the only lawyer in the prison, the lawyer has to draw up the legal papers giving away his entire fortune in inheritance to this John V.A. and he does a good legal job.
Peter: Interestingly enough, John V.A. though portrayed as maybe not the most educated of the group is wily enough that he demands a deed of gift - in other words, surrender in writing of the property - but when his time is drawing near. he also demands that Cheval writes him a will leaving the property from him to his mother and sister because he knows enough to suspect that this may become undone after his death somehow. Unless there is some other conveyance from him now to his heirs.
Frank: And now Katie, this changes how the other prisoners view Cheval again.
Katie: Correct. The point that I found most interesting about the book is that the group gave deference to Cheval to begin with, even when he was behaving - by all standards -badly, trying to extricate himself from an execution. But they gave him preferential treatment because he had property and he was educated; and at the point where he signs his name on a piece of paper, the group then considers him one of them because he no longer has property and judges him according to their own standards.
Frank: Let me just read how Graham Greene describes that change that comes over the prisoners. Quote: “He was one of them now. A man without money or position; and unconsciously they had accepted him and begun to judge him by their own standards and to condemn him.” End quote. Now Peter, we're led up to these executions. But the next thing we know John Louis is out of prison.
Peter: When we start the second part of the novel, a man named John Louis Sharlou is approaching a house; he's looking at the house that was earlier described and melancholy is the predominant emotion here.
Frank: But Katie, as a reader we know that this is our main character John Louis Cheval. Come to see his old home having changed his name. (Katie: Correct.) Does he tell us where he's been or how he got to this house?
Katie: No. The second part of the novel immediately follows his time in prison and so there is a leap from the prison to this point.
Frank: Ok, right now Cheval (or Sharlou as he's calling himself) now has reached his ancestral home. We meet a couple of more characters: the sister and mother of Javier - the young man who took Cheval’s place to be executed. After his death, his mother and sister, they're now living in Cheval’s House.
Peter: Mogil is their last name and they are from a lower station in life than Cheval is. They're not used to living in the landed aristocracy surroundings. Hence, they have no servants. They really don't have any skill in taking care of the property. They live in the little corners of the house that suit them, the kitchen, a bedroom. They don't tend the garden other than to grow just enough crops in a corner.
Frank: They have Cheval’s money but they don't know how to use it. They don't know how to spend it.
Katie: Well, some of it is that, and also they never went into the dining room because the Sister felt that Cheval’s presence was there and there was such hatred for him that she really didn't want to be in a room where there was so much of his presence.
Frank: She knows that her brother accepted someone else's death sentence in order to leave an inheritance to his sister and his mother. The mother does not know that her son has been killed.
Katie: Right. The hatred for him is consuming her and Cheval comes to realize that he not only sentenced one person to death, but his sister as well.
Frank: And Peter, we're getting this story is being told to us by Cheval. He has also one other story to tell us.
Peter: Yes. We segway back too just after he's been released from the prison. Cheval finds himself in Paris destitute and wandering the streets. He can't find work. Here he is an educated man. So he's walking down the street and I believe he's going towards the Sane and contemplating throwing himself in the river. He may as well die. And he stops at a public restroom and a man comes in. Missure Chorus and starts to address him as Pedo and ask him if he would carry a message to his wife that ‘they're’ after him; and that ‘they’ we presume would be the resistance. You get the vibe that he's a collaborator with the Germans who's on the run.
Frank: But Cheval doesn't necessarily make that connection right away.
Peter: Not right away but the fellow says, I'll leave you three hundred francs if you take that message to my wife. Cheval takes that money. And that's what allows him to get to his old homestead…
Frank: With a stop off at an old watering hole on the way. He figures if he's only got a little bit of money and a short time to live, he might as well enjoy it and go down like a Frenchman. (Peter: Correct.)
OUT: Okay let's take a break here and when we come back, I want to talk about how our story gets resolved. You're listening to novel conversations today we're having a conversation on The Tenth Man by Graham Greene. I'm Frank Lovallo. We'll be right back.
IN: And we're back. And you're listening to Novel Conversations. When we left, we had Cheval coming up to the door of his old homestead. His plan was really to come up see his old house then move on, but he finds he just can't leave the house. So, he goes up to the door and he rings the bell Janvier V.A. sister Theresa answers the door and wants to take us on from there.
Peter: Cheval is coming up to the door of his old homestead. His plan was really to come up see his old house then move on, but he finds he just can't leave the house. So, he goes up to the door and he rings the bell. Janvier V.A. sister Theresa answers the door.
Katie: Well Theresa assumes that he is a beggar.
Frank: Sure, this is after the war. Men have been coming back from the army or being released from prisons…
Katie: Correct. So, she invites him in and they have a conversation and as they seem to be getting along. Then she suggested that he stays and helps around the house and they could pay him. And as odd as it seems he can't seem to leave the house. And so he does wind up staying at his old home as a handyman.
Frank: And Peter, shortly after he starts working around the house, he reveals to Tereza that he was in the prison with her brother.
Peter: He knew this Cheval man that deeded the property over to her. She of course is very curious about that. She asked what he's like, you know she wants something that's going to justify her intense hatred; and of course, Sharlou is Cheval and he indicates that he tried to take the deal back and her brother wouldn't hear of it - which is a lessening of the blow - I guess, of buying off her brother's death, and that he really wasn't a bad fellow after all. She wants a physical description of him that's sort of an evil hawkish devil looking man and Cheval says ‘well he really wasn't that much different than me, maybe a little taller an inch or so maybe less.’ So, he's trying to paint a human picture of Cheval for her.
Frank: But as you said, Terase is really trying to justify her anger, so she does not want a pretty picture.
Peter: Right. As a matter of fact, he asked her at one point, well what would you do if Cheval came back? And she says, I'm going to take a gun and shoot him.
Frank: And Katie, after some time passes and Cheval is working in the house. Sure enough there's a knock on the door and a man introduces himself as Cheval.
Katie: Yes. Interestingly enough it is the gentlemen that Cheval/Sharlou had met up with in the public restroom. The collaborator and we come to learn that he had heard the story of what had happened in the prison and he determined that he was going to take advantage of the situation. So he came impersonating Cheval.
Frank: And the real Cheval/Sharlou can’t identify this man because then that would identify himself.
Katie: True and I think there was more to it than that because by this point in the story, I do believe that he was taking a liking to her. (Frank: You mean Cheval to Teraze.) Correct and by agreeing with the impostor that he was Cheval, he realized some of that hatred he could remove from himself if she were to eventually reciprocate in terms of the feelings.
Peter: Right, he had an opportunity to lose himself and really become Sharlou. If only she would believe that that was Cheval. So, when she says is this John Louis Cheval? He says, yes he is.
Katie: It also wasn't just solely to make himself feel better. I believe he realized that Teraze was so consumed with hatred, that if she could actually meet the person it would actually relieve some of the burden from her…
Peter: … and part of getting past the hatred, I think is the fact that she said that if she ever saw him, she would shoot him. Well he makes his appearance and he's there a very brief time initially, and then he leaves. And she becomes very emotional. She indicates ‘I couldn't do it. I failed my test of shooting him when I had the opportunity. I'm no better than Cheval.’ So, now the wall of hatred is starting to be eroded. All the sudden, now she understands that when you're tested - like Cheval was in the prison - you would like to think you would always do what you say or what you aspire to do, but that it doesn't always happen that way.
Frank: The choices he made become a little more understandable to Teraze. (Peter: Right.) But now Cheval does not carry this charade on very long. He realizes he cannot keep the truth from Teraze.
Peter: Well, her mother falls ill and that's a turning point in his decision on how he's going to play this out. She asks him to go fetch the priest and there's a passage in there about God coming into the house; and when God comes into the house, Evil is his constant companion. I believe that's a reference to Karas being there and when Cheval is walking the priest home after the mother eventually dies, he tells the priest, ‘You have to leave.’ (Frank: … now that she's an unattended, unmarried woman.) Right. And it's not just appearances. The priest says that very often there's always a component of sorrow and lust but what people frequently fail to realize is that there's a component of lust in sorrow and that is going to come to play when Karas has a chance to be alone with Tereze.
Frank: Right. Because Katie, that's really the moment when Cheval realizes he can't carry this on any longer. Karas comes back and now has a plan B … instead of just taking some of the money and leaving … he's decided he's going to marry into this family and get it all.
Katie: And that's where Cheval is turning from the evil that he's done. He's basically saying this person, Terase - who's already been deeply hurt by what I've done - is about to be hurt even more so. But, I have the opportunity to do the right thing, and so I'm going to… and to do that, I need to reveal who I truly am deal with the consequences.
Frank: And Peter, how does he finally deal with it and how does our novel end.
Peter: He comes back to the house from walking the priest back to the cathedral and as he walks in the front door Karas and Tyrus are on the banister up above on the stairwell. It's a little murky… (Frank: Well they're at least in an embrace.) Right. And you get the vibe because she says, ‘Stop it, leave me alone’ that Karas is trying to force himself on Tyrus. And at that point Cheval Sharlo decides that he's going to identify himself, so he looks her square in the eye and he says I am John Louise Chevelle. Well Karas realizes… this is gonna be the complete undoing. And with a great amount of flair, launches into this… he's lying … he's mad … it's all an act! But Chevelle knows things about the house and can prove who he is.
Frank: And it’s at this point Karas knows the jig is up… So what’s his next move, Katie…
Katie: He pulls out a pistol and he fires a shot at Chevelle Shiloh… the first shot misses … but the second shot actually hits him.
Peter: Terease runs to Chevelle and she says ‘Are you hit?’ And he says, ‘No I just caught a ricochet. It will be all right. Go fetch the doctor.’ … As she leaves to fetch the doctor, he starts to write a last will and testament and he leaves his property to her so that there can be no doubt that she is going to own it in perpetuity.
Frank: Why does he feel the need to write another will when he's already left him the property once before.
Peter: Karas had indicated to Chevelle that his earlier transfer may have been invalid and therefore he felt the need to reconvay the property to Tarese.
Frank: So now, it’s this moment here as to why I think Cheval ends our novel as a hero.
Katie: Until that point, it's questionable whether he's a hero. But I would agree that he does redeem himself at the end of the book.
Frank: Peter, does he end up a hero at the end of the novel for you. Because, now he's given up both his inheritance and his life.
Peter: I think he does. There is a point in the novel where you realize that he's falling in love or certainly becoming very fond of Tarrese. But when he catches them in their embrace, he says he's not acting out of jealousy or amorous purposes but out of tenderness. And you see that he's turned. He wants to save her not because he wants her himself - I should have her, not Karas - but because Karas is evil and she needs to be saved from evil and therefore he's not doing this so that he can get the girl and ride off into the sunset. He's doing this because it’s the right thing to do.
Frank: It's a selfless act that imitates or echoes the act done by Theresa's brother Javier by agreeing to be executed. And in that way enrich the family.
Katie: And there's a reference in there when he's dying. How odd it was that he took so long to arrive at the same pass. The passage reads:
“In the village, a clock began to strike seven. Chevelle with the torch depressed counted the hour. It was the hour of the cinder track and the blank wall and the other man's death. It seemed to him that he had taken a lot of trouble to delay a recurring occasion.”
Frank: And so that's how our novel ends.
OUT: All right. Let’s take a break here and when we come back, I’d like to have a quick discussion about the importance of time and the time shifting that occurs in The Tenth Man. You are listening to Novel Conversations, I’m Frank Lavallo. We’ll be right back.
IN: And we're back. I'm Frank Lavallo. You're listening to Novel Conversations today we're having a conversation about The Tenth Man by Graham Greene. Before our break we ended our story. And I wanted to briefly touch upon the importance of time in this novel.
Frank: What makes me think that it's important to the novel is that Graham Greene spends the first two chapters having this conversation between the mayor and Pier about who keeps the right time. And the mayor says, ‘Well if this is the time that my watch says then this must be the right time.’ And then of course there's that strange break where we go straight from the prison to the front door of Cheval’s house.
Katie: Well in prison, to me, the significance of the time was nobody knew how much time that they had left and presumably some had more time than others. And so, I think anyone who had any possession of time, while in prison, was deemed important. But the significance of time was even more so because no one really knew how much they had left.
Frank: Peter, what is your take on the significance of time? … and with the watches and the clocks … and my time is right your time is wrong… five before midnight five after midnight….
Peter: Initially my view was similar to Katie’s, in the fact that nobody knew how much time they had. But as the novel unfolded and I saw it was a novel more about possessions and not having possessions and wanting to get possessions. I thought of time into the novel as a possession. It was what made the Mayor and Pier important was because they had a possession just the same way that Cheval had the house. So, I thought time was important because it made them something. It gave them status.
Katie: I thought the more interesting reference to time was the discussion whether John VA actually died at midnight or he died at 7:00 in the morning and why that was so important in the novel.
Frank: Who was it important to? (Katie: To Terase.) But was it important for the novel?
Peter: Maybe not into the big picture of the novel but into setting the hook of Karas because Terese woke up the night before Janvier died at midnight. She awoke with a pain, and they were twins, so she believed that was the moment that he died. She had felt his death. And Cheval rightfully and truthfully said no he died at 7:00 in the morning. But Karas used that to draw her into his trap because he said, ‘No, no! Cheval is lying. He died at night.’ And she says, ‘At midnight I had a pain.’ And he says, ‘Exactly.’ Now she believes him because she has this connection to her brother and that bodes with what her body told her it did.
Frank: But when John VA was really executed, did it really matter? I don't believe it really mattered. He could have been executed at 7:00 a.m… He could have been executed at midnight… it didn't matter to Cheval. Ultimately it didn't affect anything that had to do it to Terese. Let me ask the question a different way… Could this story have occurred in a time other than the end of World War Two in France?
Peter: Sure, could have happened in a Gulag in Russia…
Katie: … could have happened in the Depression in the late 20s early 30s.
Frank: It could have happened in a prison in the Middle East. So the time doesn't really matter. For me what Graham Greene is saying in The Tenth Man, especially during those first two chapters of - we don't know what time it is… my time's right because it's my time … and your time is right to you, but it's not right me... This story can happen at anytime. The time of the story doesn't matter. This story should not be dismissed as a horror of World War 2. These stories are real and valid no matter when they happen.
Katie: And it’s a story of redemption… I believe that the story was really about going from execution to redemption. It’s about the evolution of a person and whether the person is a good person or not, matters not because in the end, he is redeemed.
Peter: Well working backwards from the end of the novel to the front. I think if we can say that Cheval was heroic in the end, then you can see that even good people do bad things or make bad choices. At the beginning of the novel he's the consummate evil, he's buying his life with filthy lucre.. (Frank: with the death of another.) And at the end he's saving the life of an innocent, the sister Terese. I think when we get to the end we look back and we think, he might have been a bit shallow, maybe not as accomplished as he would have hoped. But really, he wasn't a bad person after all and he probably wasn't that bad a person in the beginning. He was human and he had human foibles which led him to cowardice, which led him to do whatever he could to save his life.
Frank: All really good insights, Katie and Peter. Now, let’s head into our last segment where I’d like to ask the two of you to share a moment or a scene or a quote that we haven't had a chance to talk about yet. Peter, do you have something for us?
Peter: I thought it was interesting the way that Greene painted the Gestapo officer that came in to announce the execution. (Frank: The young inexperienced officer?)
Peter: Right. And there's a passage that reads:
“It was a three the next afternoon that an officer entered the cell. The first officer they had seen for weeks. And this one was very young with inexperience even in the shape of his mustache, which he had shaved too much on the left side. He was as embarrassed as a schoolboy making his first entry on a stage at a prize giving. And he spoke abruptly so as to give the impression of a strength he did not possess.”
And then we break from the passage and there are from him where he speaks in a staccato speech and he tries to sound very angry and at the very end of his speech he says quote:
“Your allotment then is three. We are quite indifferent as to which three you can choose for yourselves the funeral rites will begin at 7:00 tomorrow morning.” End quote.
And I thought that was interesting to juxtapose funeral rites, which is a Christian religion concept, with a Nazi. I thought perhaps the purpose was for Greene to show that at this point the war as we know from history, that the Germans were conscripting boys, Hitler Youth, who really were just teenagers to do men's work. And I thought that was a slip of the tongue that maybe belied his humanity even though he was a Gestapo agent.
Frank: And I tell you I loved the little detail of the mis-shaved mustache and how he got it a little bit wrong on the left showing again the youth and inexperience… (Peter: Right.) Katie, do you have something you wanted to read for us?
Katie: Yes, I found a passage, literally it's in the last sentences of the novel that were particularly impactful. The scene is where Cheval is shot and he is lying in his home and it reads:
“It is oddly satisfactory to die in his own home alone. It was as if one possessed at death, only what the eyes took in. Poor John V.A. he thought. The cinder track. He began to sign his name. But before he had quite finished, he felt the water of his wound flowing immeasurably. A river, a torrent, a tide of peace.”
And this really for me just sums up the whole book. I mean we've talked a lot about possessions and people giving deference to people who are more educated than them. But you spent the whole book hoping that Cheval did the right thing and redeemed himself. Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you have you come into the world… you come in alone you die alone. What kind of person you were while you were on this earth is what's important; and I think that's what is summed up in that particular passage by doing the right thing, that’s how you get peace.
Frank: It’s certainly an eloquent way to end the novel. With that said, I’d like to end our conversation about The Tenth Man by Graham Greene. I do want to thank both of you for coming in and having a conversation with me today. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Katie and Peter: Thank you. It's quite enjoyable. Yes. Thank you.
Frank: I once again want to thank our readers today Katie Smith and Peter Toomey. You've been listening to Novel Conversations.