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Author: Graham Greene
ISBN13: 978-0434305582
Title: The Quiet American
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ePUB size: 1995 kb
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Language: English
Category: Genre Fiction
Publisher: William Heinemann & The Bodley Head; First Thus edition (1973)
Pages: 232

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Dear Rene and Phuong, I have asked permission to dedicate this book to you not only in memory of the happy evenings I have spent with you in Saigon over the last five years, but also because I have quite shamelessly borrowed the location of your flat to house one of my characters, and your name, Phuong, for the convenience of readers because it is simple, beautiful. This is a story and not a piece of history, and I hope that as a story about a few imaginary characters it will pass for both of you one hot Saigon evening. Yours affectionately, " Graham Greene. I do not like being moved: for the will is excited; and action. Is a most dangerous thing; I tremble for something factitious, Some malpractice of heart and illegitimate process

I went to the American Legation and asked for Pyle. It was necessary to fill in a form at the door and give it to a military policeman. He said, ‘You haven’t put the purpose of the visit. He liked the smell, he said, he liked the sense of quiet at the end of the day, but in his profession relaxation could go no further. There were officers who smoked, but they were Army men-he had to have his sleep. We lay in a small cubicle in a row of cubicles like a dormitory at school, and the Chinese proprietor prepared my pipes.

The Quiet American is noted for its divergent from Greene’s ‘Catholic’ novels. But the existential issues are very much in the forefront. Fowler is a man of conscience, albeit aloof in his outward stance. The climax comes as he resolves a moral dilemma. Guilt is his nemesis, regarding his wife in England, regarding Phuong, and much more acutely at the end of the novel, regarding Pyle. The book ends with this line: I wished there existed someone to whom I could say that I was sorry. Thanks for hosting the Graham Greene Challenge. This is my first GG book albeit I’ve long been impressed by films based on his works or his own screenplay. I’ve two more lined up already, can’t wait.

The Quiet American book. What is The Quiet American all about, after all? Many see it as a mere allegory between the forces involved in the conflict portrayed by Greene. Others recognize it as just a war or spy novel. I prefer to read it as a love triangle where Fowley, the surly middle-aged British war correspondent; and Pyle, the young and naïve American spy; dispute the love and possession of the young and beautiful Vietnamese Phuong. Their tangled relationship could, of course, stand for the intricacies of the conflict that was ravaging Viet Nam and what was yet to come. But let’s just leave at that.

The Quiet American is a 1955 novel by English author Graham Greene. Narrated in the first person by journalist Thomas Fowler, the novel depicts the breakdown of French colonialism in Vietnam and early American involvement in the Vietnam War. A subplot concerns a love triangle between Fowler, an American CIA agent named Alden Pyle, and Phuong, a young Vietnamese woman.

Alden Pyle, an idealistic young American, is sent to Vietnam to promote democracy amidst the intrigue and violence of the French war with the Vietminh. His friend Fowler, a cynical foreign correspondent, looks on but soon finds it difficult to remain simply an observer. Fowler's mistress, a beautiful native girl, creates a catalyst for jealousy and competition between the men and a cultural clash resulting in bloodshed and deep misgivings. Written in 1955 prior to the Vietnam conflict, The Quiet American foreshadows the events leading up to the war. Questions surrounding the moral ambiguity of the involvement of the United States in foreign countries are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago.
Reviews: 7
This is a fascinating look at the intrigue of a place and time that few Americans know much about--Vietnam in the early 1950s, during its struggle for independence from the French, and long before the conflict that brought it to the attention of the American public. The book was also written long before that more famous conflict (1955), so many of the scenes will seem fantastically prescient to a modern American reader. Some of that angered me, as it mirrored the American experience in the Vietnam War so closely, that you realize our leaders in the 1960s had no excuse for not knowing what they were getting us into. The narrator is a cynical British journalist--a bit too cynical for my taste, though he has some amazing insights into human nature. The treatment of the eponymous American is a bit high-handed at times, though sometimes deserved, and sometimes not. There is a smug dismissal of American naivete and meddling that is in part justified in hindsight, and in part seems like unwarranted cultural condescension. It is a well-told story, and it brings out the complications and enigmas of post-WW2 southeast Asia very well. I gained useful insights into the later Vietnam War era, but in the end I was left vaguely unsatisfied.
I re-read this after some years. It's my favorite of Greene's collection. He has an ability to immerse a reader in a story, so much so that even after I left the book for a day or so I never left the characters, who seemed to follow me hither and yon. The humor is subtle and deeply satisfying. Take this book on a cruise or on a trip to a mountain cabin. It's not a long book. You can get it done in a weekend.
“The Quiet American” takes place in 1950s Vietnam, a time when the French were still the ones fighting the Viet-Minh, and American involvement was all but invisible. It is narrated in the first person by Thomas Fowler, an English reporter living there and covering the war. The so-called “Quiet American” is Alden Pyle, who Fowler meets early in the novel, and who turns out to be both more and less than he seems.

With only one or two exceptions, the story manages to simultaneously maintain an underlying languidness even while events move along. The languid impression is conveyed by the seeming comfortable accommodation that Fowler and the other Europeans have made with an Asian lifestyle only possible for a more prosperous European detached emotionally from the trials of the nation around him. Fowler himself come off as a bit cynical on the surface, but this masks his quite realistic insights into what motivates both himself and those around him. It is perhaps his way of trying to make a joke of himself to keep these self-revelations from drowning him. He may be one of those people that tends to be a bit too hard on himself as well as on others. For example: “ I couldn't have made the sentimental assumption that Pyle made. I know myself, and I know the depth of my selfishness. I cannot be at ease (and to be at ease is my chief wish) if someone else is in pain, visibly or audibly or tactually. Sometimes this is mistaken by the innocent for unselfishness, when all I am doing is sacrificing a small good -- in this case postponement in attending to my hurt -- for the sake of a far greater good, a peace of mind when I need think only of myself."

Through his characters, Greene expressed insights in the 1950s (when he wrote this) that still have the ring of truth today, over 70 years later.

In the story, reporters are professionally briefed by the military, where they receive the information the military wants them to have (and no more!), and after which they get “guided tours” (usually via air) of the scene of the most recent hostilities. Often if a reporter shows up, as Fowler once does, they will allow him to “embed” with the fighting unit so he can report firsthand. How do the soldiers view these civilian reporters? “Perhaps to the soldier the civilian is the man who employs him to kill, includes the guilt of murder in the pay envelope and escapes responsibility.”

After a bombing in a town square exacts a body count almost completely composed of non-combatant civilians, most of whom are women and children, a person with advance notice of the bombing dissembled about this aspect of it by saying that there was supposed to be a parade that day and that the hoped-for targets should have included a handful of high-ranking officers. This was responded to by the question "How many dead colonels justify a child's or a trishaw driver's death when you are building a national Democratic front?" Such atrocities in the capital are committed with the idea that they will wrongly be attributed to the insurgents (almost like a “false flag” operation, only without the staging of “evidence”).

Finally near the end, when the possibility is raised of ultimate direct involvement by the Americans, someone replies "At least they won't hate us like they hate the French." Very much like the wag who insisted in 2002 that the soldiers of a certain invading army would be greeted as liberators.

This is my second Graham Greene novel (“The Human Factor” being the first), and it is clear that Greene was one of the greats.
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This book gives a stark and unsparing on-the-ground view of Vietnam, or French Indochina as it was commonly referred to at the time, and early French and American involvement, in the early 1950s. The author was openly disdainful in real life of what he perceived as American crassness and naivete, which he proceeds to (sometimes blastingly, sometimes almost-sympathetically) portray in this story of Pyle, an idealistic young anti-communist American "diplomat", with devastating effect simply because Greene's contempt and rage are not without merit. Greene's belief that innocence is an evil in the world is disconcerting on a certain level, an idea worth struggling with. There is plenty of sometimes-lethal action, intrigue and an unflinching if subtly-couched look at the character flaws of the book's first-person British-journalist narrator, including but not limited to his reactions to Pyle's s stealing his Vietnamese girlfriend. The grim joke in the book's title is in the fact that Pyle dies in the beginning pages, making him a very quiet American indeed. The rest of the book is flash-back, detailing the intrigues, unique to that time and place and struggle and culture (including Pyle's callousness to the deaths of innocents in advance of his desire to impose "democracy" on another culture and country) that lead to his death. This book is a sobering learning experience, in view of the later American military involvement, whose denouement validated much of what this book has to say. Whether such a cynical view of the world is fully merited is a question for the individual reader to mull.
Leaving aside your feelings about the Viet Nam conflict, Greene is a truly great writer, who can describe a scene or situation in the fewest of words but with extraordinary effect. I read this because Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, was reportedly much influenced by it. Greene's book is much better written (but to be fair at the point of writing The Quiet American, Greene was a more experienced novelist than Nguyen is now), and has more layers of moral ambiguities. But I'm still thinking about these books, and will for a long time.