Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Deep in the Jungle

Am currently blitzing through the final volume (the third) of Norman Sherry's THE LIFE OF GRAHAM GREENE & reading vignettes about one of Greene's acquaintances who I met ten years ago. The Belgian Michel Lechat, long recognized as the leading specialist in leperosy and who contributed mightily to its eradication in the Third World, was working and living in the Congo when Greene came to do fieldwork for his novel, A BURNT-OUT CASE. Travelling home from China, I sat beside Monsieur Lechat on a flight out of Narita Airport, Tokyo. He was reading a French translation of a Keats biography and we got to talking. In only the space of a few hours, he showed himself to be a polymath and one of the most compassionate individuals I've ever met. I've thought about looking him up because his indelible presence, the way his person lent itself to changing the atmosphere around him, is so rare in this world of smoke, mirrors, sound bytes, snippets, high-speed dial-ups, and modern indifference.