Fellow writers were among those who offered tributes this past week upon the death, at 86, of Graham Greene, whose novels of dark intrigue and tense struggles for moral and physical survival brought him worldwide fame.
Greene's career spanned more than half a century. He wrote 24 novels and several movie scripts, traveled widely and was drawn to political controversy throughout his career."The best of his novels will be remembered as literary perfection," said novelist William Golding. "Greene will be read and remembered as the ultimate chronicler of 20th-century man's consciousness and anxieties."
"He was a great and magical writer, hard to fit into any pattern," said spy novelist John Le Carre, who described Greene as his "guiding star."
An Anglican convert to Catholicism, Greene combined a passion for politics, exoticism and religion. He decribed writing as a way of "finding peace, though it is a very unpeaceful process of finding."
Among his acclaimed novels were "The Power and the Glory" and "The Heart of the Matter," which reflected Greene's inner conflicts over religion.
"The Quiet American," a politically tinged work foreshadowing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, depicted an idealistic American doctor in French colonial Indochina.
Greene wrote the movie script for the classic 1950 spy thriller "The Third Man" and also wrote children's books, plays and lighter novels such as "Our Man in Havana," a spy spoof.
He was honored by Queen Elizabeth II and the French government but never won a Nobel Prize, despite several nominations by colleagues.
Rebelling against an oppressive adolescence, Greene became a Communist Party member - for six weeks - while studying at Oxford University. He converted to Roman Catholicism at 22.
Some of his most serious works reflected his conversion to Catholicism, delving into the relationship between adultery and religious faith.
One of these, "The Heart of the Matter" (1948), was set in Sierra Leone, where Greene worked as a secret agent on African assignment for the British Foreign Office.
His literary obsession was to depict "a dangerous edge of things, psychologically and sometimes politically," he once said in an interview.
On political issues, Greene spoke out freely, calling himself "a humanist and a socialist" and distancing himself from the United States.
Washington barred Greene in 1954 from entering the United States, alleging he was a communist sympathizer.
In the 1980s, he attacked Ronald Reagan for "living a lie" as U.S. president. He applauded Mikhail Gorbachev and endorsed Nicaragua's then-Sandinista government.
Greene went all over the world, relishing trouble spots like Vietnam, Israel, South Africa, Chile and Central America.
Seeking out dangerous places let him "get away from boredom," he said.
He moved last year to Corseaux, a village with a view of Lake Geneva and the French Alps, after living on the French Riviera for almost 25 years. He shared the Swiss apartment with his companion, Yvonne Cloetta, to whom he dedicated his last novel, "The Captain and the Enemy."
For all his fame and foibles, Greene was usually remembered as mild-mannered and unpretentious.
He never mastered the typewriter and wrote in longhand. He was an avid reader of up to four books a week and several newspapers daily, seeking "to keep my eye on world politics."
Words spoken by one of his characters suggested he may have seen a form of salvation in keeping one's sense of humor.
"When I was a boy I had faith in Christian God," the narrator says in the novel "The Comedians." "Now that I approached the end of life it was only my sense of humor that enabled me sometimes to believe in Him."