Last Christmas, my friend John lent me Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. My impression of Greene was of a stodgy Brit who wrote stodgy spy novels, and I wasn't interested, but John convinced me otherwise. The story of a lonely widower recruited by M15 to report on Cuba's brewing political mess but, since he doesn't know how to spy, makes up reports and invents an elaborate network of sub-agents which requires a bigger and bigger payroll, is superbly written and laugh outloud funny, in both concept and execution: I read it twice. John and I were talking about the book again at Sunday's Thanksgiving dinner because I had forgotten to bring it with me, and John said he could lend me another Greene, but then didn't as we were distracted by talking to other people about other things and eating pie.
On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, by coincidence, I watched Garbo the Spy, which reveals the story of Joan Pujol García, who first offers himself as a spy to the British, who refuse him, then offers himself to the Nazis, who do not. From Lisbon, Pujol, under the Nazi codename Arabel, sends false reports as though from London and invents a network of sub-agents. The Nazis have no doubt in his reports--although Arabel complains about the excessive heat of London and that dockworkers will do anything for a bottle of wine--or in his payroll--they go so far as paying a pension to the 'widow' of a deceased sub-agent. This is where Greene was smart enough to recognize he had what he needed for his satire because to go on is nearly unbelievable: the Brits now hire Pujol, give him the codename Garbo for his great acting ability, and continue to have him send false reports to the Germans, ultimately contributing to the success of D-Day, June 14, 1944. The Nazis never find him out, and award Arabel the Iron Cross; not to be outdone, the British award him an MBE.
Garbo has received an additional screening: Friday, October 15th 7:00pm @ Vancity Theatre. Make sure to sit through the credits for even more preposterous facts.