Graham Greene's classic exploration of love, innocence, and morality in Vietnam
"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," Graham Greene's narrator Fowler remarks of Alden Pyle, the eponymous "Quiet American" of what is perhaps the most controversial novel of his career. Pyle is the brash young idealist sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon, where the French Army struggles against the Vietminh guerrillas.
As young Pyle's well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds it impossible to stand safely aside as an observer. But Fowler's motives for intervening are suspect, both to the police and himself, for Pyle has stolen Fowler's beautiful Vietnamese mistress.
Originally published in 1956 and twice adapted to film, The Quiet American remains a terrifiying and prescient portrait of innocence at large. This Graham Greene Centennial Edition includes a new introductory essay by Robert Stone.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition Series|
|Edition description:||Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.56(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Graham Greene (1904-1991), whose long life nearly spanned the length of the twentieth century, was one of its greatest novelists. Educated at Berkhamsted School and Balliol College, Oxford, he started his career as a sub-editor of The Times of London. He began to attract notice as a novelist with his fourth book, Orient Express, in 1932. In 1935, he trekked across northern Liberia, his first experience in Africa, recounted in A Journey Without Maps (1936). He converted to Catholicism in 1926, an edifying decision, and reported on religious persecution in Mexico in 1938 in The Lawless Roads, which served as a background for his famous The Power and the Glory, one of several “Catholic” novels (Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair). During the war he worked for the British secret service in Sierra Leone; afterward, he began wide-ranging travels as a journalist, which were reflected in novels such as The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, The Comedians, Travels with My Aunt, The Honorary Consul, The Human Factor, Monsignor Quixote, and The Captain and the Enemy. In addition to his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, two books of autobiography—A Sort of Life and Ways of Escape—two biographies, and four books for children. He also contributed hundreds of essays and film and book reviews to The Spectator and other journals, many of which appear in the late collection Reflections. Most of his novels have been filmed, including The Third Man, which the author first wrote as a film treatment. Graham Greene was named Companion of Honour and received the Order of Merit among numerous other awards.
Robert Stone is the author of seven novels: A Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers (winner of the National Book Award), A Flag for Sunrise, Children of Light, Outerbridge Reach, Damascus Gate, and Bay of Souls. His story collection, Bear and His Daughter, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and his memoir, Prime Green, was published in 2006.
Date of Birth:October 2, 1904
Date of Death:April 3, 1991
Place of Birth:Berkhamsted, England
Place of Death:Vevey, Switzerland
Education:Balliol College, Oxford
Read an Excerpt
After dinner I sat and waited for Pyle in my room over the rue Catinat; he had said, ‘I’ll be with you at latest by ten,’ and when midnight struck I couldn’t stay quiet any longer and went down into the street. A lot of old women in black trousers squatted on the landing: it was February and I suppose too hot for them in bed. One trishaw driver pedalled slowly by towards the riverfront and I could see lamps burning where they had disembarked the new American planes. There was no sign of Pyle anywhere in the long street.
Of course, I told myself, he might have been detained for some reason at the American Legation, but surely in that case he would have telephoned to the restaurant — he was very meticulous about small courtesies. I turned to go indoors when I saw a girl waiting in the next doorway. I couldn’t see her face, only the white silk trousers and the long flowered robe, but I knew her for all that. She had so often waited for me to come home at just this place and hour.
‘Phuong,’ I said — which means Phoenix, but nothing nowadays is fabulous and nothing rises from its ashes. I knew before she had time to tell me that she was waiting for Pyle too. ‘He isn’t here.’
‘Je sais. Je t’ai vu seul à la fenêtre.’
‘You may as well wait upstairs.’ I said. ‘He will be coming soon.’
‘I can wait here.’
‘Better not. The police might pick you up.’
She followed me upstairs. I thought of several ironic and unpleasant jests I might make, but neitherher English nor her French would have been good enough for her to understand the irony, and, strange to say, I had no desire to hurt her or even to hurt myself. When we reached the landing all the old women turned their heads, and as soon as we had passed their voices rose and fell as though they were singing together.
‘What are they talking about?’
‘They think I have come home.’
Inside my room the tree I had set up weeks ago for the Chinese New Year had shed most of its yellow blossoms. They had fallen between the keys of my typewriter. I picked them out. ‘Tu es troublé,’ Phuong said.
‘It’s unlike him. He’s such a punctual man.’
I took off my tie and my shoes and lay down on the bed. Phuong lit the gas stove and began to boil the water for tea. It might have been six months ago. ‘He says you are going away soon now,’ she said.
‘He is very fond of you.’
‘Thank him for nothing,’ I said.
I saw that she was doing her hair differently, allowing it to fall black and straight over her shoulders. I remembered that Pyle had once criticized the elaborate hairdressing which she thought became the daughter of a mandarin. I shut my eyes and she was again the same as she used to be: she was the hiss of steam, the clink of a cup, she was a certain hour of the night and the promise of rest.
‘He will not be long,’ she said as though I needed comfort for his absence.
I wondered what they talked about together. Pyle was very earnest and I had suffered from his lectures on the Far East, which he had known for as many months as I had years. Democracy was another subject of his — he had pronounced and aggravating views on what the United States was doing for the world. Phuong on the other hand was wonderfully ignorant; if Hitler had come into the conversation she would have interrupted to ask who he was. The explanation would be all the more difficult because she had never met a German or a Pole and had only the vaguest knowledge of European geography, though about Princess Margaret of course she knew more than I. I heard her put a tray down on the end of the bed.
‘Is he still in love with you, Phuong?’
To take an Annamite to bed with you is like taking a bird: they twitter and sing on your pillow. There had been a time when I thought none of their voices sang like Phuong’s. I put out my hand and touched her arm — their bones too were as fragile as a bird’s.
‘Is he, Phuong?’
She laughed and I heard her strike a match. ‘In love?’ — perhaps it was one of the phrases she didn’t understand.
‘May I make your pipe?’ she asked.
When I opened my eyes she had lit the lamp and the tray was already prepared. The lamplight made her skin the colour of dark amber as she bent over the flame with a frown of concentration, heating the small paste of opium, twirling her needle.
‘Does Pyle still not smoke?’ I asked her.
‘You ought to make him or he won’t come back.’ It was a superstition among them that a lover who smoked would always return, even from France. A man’s sexual capacity might be injured by smoking, but they would always prefer a faithful to a potent lover. Now she was kneading the little ball of hot paste on the convex margin of the bowl and I could smell the opium. There is no smell like it. Beside the bed my alarm-clock showed twelvetwenty, but already my tension was over. Pyle had diminished. The lamp lit her face as she tended the long pipe, bent over it with the serious attention she might have given to a child. I was fond of my pipe: more than two feet of straight bamboo, ivory at either end. Two-thirds of the way down was the bowl, like a convolvulus reversed, the convex margin polished and darkened by the frequent kneading of the opium. Now with a flick of the wrist she plunged the needle into the tiny cavity, released the opium and reversed the bowl over the flame, holding the pipe steady for me. The bead of opium bubbled gently and smoothly as I inhaled.
The practised inhaler can draw a whole pipe down in one breath, but I always had to take several pulls. Then I lay back, with my neck on the leather pillow, while she prepared the second pipe.
I said, ‘You know, really, it’s as clear as daylight. Pyle knows I smoke a few pipes before bed, and he doesn’t want to disturb me. He’ll be round in the morning.’
In went the needle and I took my second pipe. As I laid it down, I said, ‘Nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about at all.’ I took a sip of tea and held my hand in the pit of her arm. ‘When you left me,’ I said, ‘it was lucky I had this to fall back on. There’s a good house in the rue d’Ormay. What a fuss we Europeans make about nothing. You shouldn’t live with a man who doesn’t smoke, Phuong.’
‘But he’s going to marry me,’ she said. ‘Soon now.’
‘Of course, that’s another matter.’
‘Shall I make your pipe again?’
I wondered whether she would consent to sleep with me that night if Pyle never came, but I knew that when I had smoked four pipes I would no longer want her. Of course it would be agreeable to feel her thigh beside me in the bed — she always slept on her back, and when I woke in the morning I could start the day with a pipe, instead of with my own company. ‘Pyle won’t come now,’ I said. ‘Stay here, Phuong.’ She held the pipe out to me and shook her head. By the time I had drawn the opium in, her presence or absence mattered very little.
‘Why is Pyle not here?’ she asked.
‘How do I know?’ I said.
‘Did he go to see General Thé?’
‘I wouldn’t know.’
‘He told me if he could not have dinner with you, he wouldn’t come here.’
‘Don’t worry. He’ll come. Make me another pipe.’ When she bent over the flame the poem of Baudelaire’s came into my mind: ‘Mon enfant, ma soeur . . .’ How did it go on?
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble.
Out on the waterfront slept the ships, ‘dont l’humeur est vagabonde.’ I thought that if I smelt her skin it would have the faintest fragrance of opium, and her colour was that of the small flame. I had seen the flowers on her dress beside the canals in the north, she was indigenous like a herb, and I never wanted to go home. ‘I wish I were Pyle,’ I said aloud, but the pain was limited and bearable — the opium saw to that. Somebody knocked on the door.
‘Pyle,’ she said.
‘No. It’s not his knock.’
Somebody knocked again impatiently. She got quickly up, shaking the yellow tree so that it showered its petals again over my typewriter. The door opened. ‘Monsieur Fowlair,’ a voice commanded.
‘I’m Fowler,’ I said. I was not going to get up for a policeman — I could see his khaki shorts without lifting my head.
He explained in almost unintelligible Vietnamese French that I was needed immediately — at once — rapidly — at the Sureté.
‘At the French Sureté or the Vietnamese?’
‘The French.’ In his mouth the word sounded like ‘Françung.’
He didn’t know: it was his orders to fetch me.
‘Toi aussi,’ he said to Phuong.
‘Say vous when you speak to a lady,’ I told him. ‘How did you know she was here?’
He only repeated that they were his orders.
‘I’ll come in the morning.’
‘Sur le chung,’ he said, a little, neat, obstinate figure. There wasn’t any point in arguing, so I got up and put on my tie and shoes. Here the police had the last word: they could withdraw my order of circulation: they could have me barred from Press Conferences: they could even, if they chose, refuse me an exit permit. These were the open legal methods, but legality was not essential in a country at war. I knew a man who had suddenly and inexplicably lost his cook — he had traced him to the Vietnamese Sureté, but the officers there assured him that he had been released after questioning. His family never saw him again. Perhaps he had joined the Communists; perhaps he had been enlisted in one of the private armies which flourished round Saigon — the Hoa-Haos or the Caodaists or General Thé. Perhaps he was in a French prison. Perhaps he was happily making money out of girls in Cholon, the Chinese suburb. Perhaps his heart had given way when they questioned him. I said, ‘I’m not going to walk. You’ll have to pay for a trishaw.’ One had to keep one’s dignity.
That was why I refused a cigarette from the French officer at the Sureté. After three pipes I felt my mind clear and alert: it could take such decisions easily without losing sight of the main question— what do they want from me? I had met Vigot before several times at parties — I had noticed him because he appeared incongruously in love with his wife, who ignored him, a flashy and false blonde. Now it was two in the morning and he sat tired and depressed in the cigarette smoke and the heavy heat, wearing a green eyeshade, and he had a volume of Pascal open on his desk to while away the time. When I refused to allow him to question Phuong without me he gave way at once, with a single sigh that might have represented his weariness with Saigon, with the heat, or with the whole human condition.
He said in English, ‘I’m so sorry I had to ask you to come.’
‘I wasn’t asked. I was ordered.’
‘Oh, these native police — they don’t understand.’ His eyes were on a page of Les Pensées as though he were still absorbed in those sad arguments. ‘I wanted to ask you a few questions — about Pyle.’
‘You had better ask him the questions.’
He turned to Phuong and interrogated her sharply in French. ‘How long have you lived with Monsieur Pyle?’
‘A month — I don’t know,’ she said.
‘How much has he paid you?’
‘You’ve no right to ask her that,’ I said. ‘She’s not for sale.’
‘She used to live with you, didn’t she?’ he asked abruptly. ‘For two years.’
‘I’m a correspondent who’s supposed to report your war — when you let him. Don’t ask me to contribute to your scandal sheet as well.’
‘What do you know about Pyle? Please answer my questions, Monsieur Fowler. I don’t want to ask them. But this is serious. Please believe me it is very serious.’
‘I’m not an informer. You know all I can tell you about Pyle. Age thirty-two, employed in the Economic Aid Mission, nationality American.’
‘You sound like a friend of his,’ Vigot said, looking past me at Phuong. A native policeman came in with three cups of black coffee.
‘Or would you rather have tea?’ Vigot asked.
‘I am a friend,’ I said. ‘Why not? I shall be going home one day, won’t I? I can’t take her with me. She’ll be all right with him. It’s a reasonable arrangement. And he’s going to marry her, he says. He might, you know. He’s a good chap in his way. Serious. Not one of those noisy bastards at the Continental. A quiet American,’ I summed him precisely up as I might have said, ‘a blue lizard,’ ‘a white elephant.’
Vigot said, ‘Yes.’ He seemed to be looking for words on his desk with which to convey his meaning as precisely as I had done. ‘A very quiet American.’ He sat there in the little hot office waiting for one of us to speak. A mosquito droned to the attack and I watched Phuong. Opium makes you quick-witted — perhaps only because it calms the nerves and stills the emotions. Nothing, not even death, seems so important. Phuong, I thought, had not caught his tone, melancholy and final, and her English was very bad. While she sat there on the hard office-chair, she was still waiting patiently for Pyle. I had at that moment given up waiting, and I could see Vigot taking those two facts in.
‘How did you meet him first?’ Vigot asked me.
Why should I explain to him that it was Pyle who had met me? I had seen him last September coming across the square towards the bar of the Continental: an unmistakably young and unused face flung at us like a dart. With his gangly legs and his crew-cut and his wide campus gaze he seemed incapable of harm. The tables on the street were most of them full. ‘Do you mind?’ he had asked with serious courtesy. ‘My name’s Pyle. I’m new here,’ and he had folded himself around a chair and ordered a beer. Then he looked quickly up into the hard noon glare.
“Was that a grenade?’ he asked with excitement and hope.
‘Most likely the exhaust of a car,’ I said, and was suddenly sorry for his disappointment. One forgets so quickly one’s own youth: once I was interested myself in what for want of a better term they call news. But grenades had staled on me; they were something listed on the back page of the local paper — so many last night in Saigon, so many in Cholon: they never made the European press. Up the street came the lovely flat figures — the white silk trousers, the long tight jackets in pink and mauve patterns slit up the thigh. I watched them with the nostalgia I knew I would feel when I had left these regions for ever. ‘They are lovely, aren’t they?’ I said over my beer, and Pyle cast them a cursory glance as they went up the rue Catinat.
‘Oh, sure,’ he said indifferently: he was a serious type. ‘The Minister’s very concerned about these grenades. It would be very awkward, he says, if there was an incident — with one of us, I mean.’
‘With one of you? Yes, I suppose that would be serious. Congress wouldn’t like it.’ Why does one want to tease the innocent? Perhaps only ten days ago he had been walking back across the Common in Boston, his arms full of the books he had been reading in advance on the Far East and the problems of China. He didn’t even hear what I said; he was absorbed already in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West; he was determined — I learnt that very soon — to do good, not to any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world. Well, he was in his element now with the whole universe to improve.
‘Is he in the mortuary?’ I asked Vigot.
‘How did you know he was dead?’ It was a foolish policeman’s question, unworthy of the man who read Pascal, unworthy also of the man who so strangely loved his wife. You cannot love without intuition.
Table of Contents
The Quiet AmericanIntroduction by Robert Stone
Suggestions for Further Reading by Michael Gorra
The Quiet American
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Difficult to read due to lack of hyphons and words running into the next paragraph. Better off buying the hard cover book.
i read this book without expecting to be pulled into the book. the narrative slowly won me over and i found myself in the middle of rice fields with the characters of the book! i feel as though i were in vietnam, walking the streets, sitting in the restaurants, having a drink with fowler and pyle. more than anything i feel as though i had entered into the mind of fowler and experienced what he was experiencing. this book transported me to another world, another time and another life. i highly recommend this book. it's not a fast paced book but one worth reading.
Great novel, terrible edition. Due to sloppy formatting, words are broken routinely at the ends of line making the novel a chore to read. Graham Greene deserves better as do B&N's customers.
One hopes that the excellent movie (and Michael Caine's well-publicized efforts to get it released after the studio went week in the knees) will bring a wave of new readers to Graham Greene -- one of the greatest novelists of his generation. A former spy who never managed to curb his wanderlust, Greene has set his novels in every corner of the world, favoring authenticity and characterization over trite blockbuster action. For anyone interested in literary craftsmanship and/or international affairs, his books are indispensable. The Quiet American, one of his stronger efforts, is a good place to start -- but not to stop.
It's not just the story, but how Graham Greene weaves his words. The story is masterfully told; the characters are shaped with care. It's simply one of the greatest stories I've read, on the same level of James Hilton's Lost Horizon in the realms of storytelling. The plot is superbly crafted and Greene makes it so you really care what happens despite the character's flaws; a skill which many contemporary authors seem to lack.
The protagonist Thomas Fowler, reminds me of Nabokov's Humbert Humbert. The former is more human; the latter more extremely perverse. But both characters are very richly developed, and very "honest". Greene has packed so much into this relatively short novel. Sexual competition, human loneliness, opportunism and selfishness, colonialism reminiscent of Orwell, political hubris, and incredible premonition, 15 years prior to the "American War" in Vietnam. Four stars for reading enjoyment, a fifth for the sheer brilliance in writing. This is easily one of the top 10 books I have ever read.
After all I've heard about this, truth is, I was disappointed.The book is, it cannot be denied, remarkably prescient (written 1952) about how America's involvement in Vietnam was going to end in tears. The problem for me is that the book comes across as a noir, and I've mentioned before how much noir irritates me. The stock character of the foreign reporter who is miserable at home but happy in foreign lands, and who has been jaded to the world around him, may be original to Graham Greene (I don't know) but it's now so common that it's someone I have no interest in, in exactly the same way as I've no interest in the cop with a drinking problem and a screwed up family life.
My first Graham Green book has me excited to read everything I can get my hands on. Fantastic."Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm."
What a wonderful book!I won't go into the plot here, and solid analyses of this novel are everywhere to be found on the Internet and in several books, so I won¿t even attempt to go there. The book is simply outstanding, and Greene's writing is so good here I want to grab and read another one of his books right now. What really got me about this novel was when I finished reading it, I realized that even though he was writing in 1955, Greene was able to foresee and totally nail the quagmire caused by US intervention in Vietnamese politics. I think that today you could easily apply his novel to the dangers of intervening in the politics of the Middle East or in the ¿third world¿ in general -- it's that timeless.Highly recommended, and certainly one of the best books I've read this year.
This was a very well written, short book that packs much in its pages in spite of its length.Additionally, this is actually my first book I've read by Greene as well, which seems to be taking things backwards. It has been a while since a work of fiction has kept me so intrigued that I truly could not wait until I was back into it. I truly felt that in under 200 pages we were really able to get a feel for the time in history as well as its place in history(Vietnam). Additionally, we are not simply given the story of a complicated love triangle or of figuring out how another character died, but are able to follow both simultaneously without having to lose the other. By starting with the end, we are left trying to understand what happened between these two friends that one would end up dead while the other got their lover. By no means is any of this story a cheap thrill or a stereotype, but an enjoyable journey of understanding the lives of these two people that met up in an unusual way.
Another one of my classics. What beautiful writing! I felt like I could smell the jungle humidity and opium smoke. I¿m not sure how I feel about his portrayal of Phuong in this¿in some lights it might be construed as patronizing and shallow, but on the other hand, couldn¿t that just be more revealing about how little she reveals to Fowler and how little he can see in her? Because there is a scene at the end that seems to subtly reveal a depth of emotion we don¿t see from her otherwise. Right, no need for a dissertation, but this is well worth reading. A view of the Vietnam war that I haven¿t read elsewhere and heartbreaking.
When does the pursuit of a noble cause become a blind, damaging obsession? Is it really possible to stay uninvolved and not take sides in life? Do we always understand and accept the motives for our most significant actions? Such are the questions that shape this brief and prophetic novel. ¿The Quiet American¿ is at once a murder mystery, the story of an ill-fated love triangle, and an engaging political treatise. It is an altogether remarkable book.Fowler, a British journalist covering the war in Vietnam in the early 1950s, meets Pyle, the overly naïve and quiet American of the title. Pyle has ostensibly come on an economic development mission, but his real intentions are soon revealed with deadly consequences. Complicating matters is the fact that Pyle has fallen in love with Phuong, Fowler¿s beautiful Vietnamese girlfriend, and the struggle between the two men becomes a metaphor for what is happening in the entire country.Greene was a masterful story-teller and here he evokes brilliantly the mood and political intrigue of Vietnam during the last days of French colonial rule. His prose proved to be remarkably prescient about the history of that nation and the origins of America¿s subsequent involvement in the war. More impressively, 50 years after it was written the novel also provides the reader with surprising insights into the challenges we continue to face throughout the world today. This is powerful and suspenseful writing that should not be forgotten.
This was a story of two battles. An English reporter is sent to cover a war-torn Saigon. While there he falls in love with Vietnamese woman. His love is challenged when an American from Boston falls in love with the same woman. There is a real war raging on the periphery, complete with bombings and mass murders, while at the center is a battle over a woman. The interesting twist to this story is how the story makes the reader feel towards the two men and how that changes over time.
Written about the War in Indo-China (Vietnam) before the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The story revolves around two characters: Fowler, an experienced and jaded British journalist and Pyle, a young idealist sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon. Pyle's naive political blunders (a metaphor for the rising US influence in the region) devolve into needless bloodshed that ultimately moves the cynical Fowler to action.I found it to be an interesting read about the second to the last chapter of Western colonialism in Southeast Asia.
A gorgeously written novel that can be nearly any type you choose to read it as: an espionage thriller, a satire of two countries naively attempting to impose their wills on a country they both choose not to understand (Fowler as Britain cynically attempts to remain objective while Pyle, the apparently ineffectual American tries to save Phuong and Vietnam from herself), a war novel infinitely more personal and thoughtful than any by Hemingway, or a text that directly addresses language and how it shapes and colors the meaning we attempt to express through it. It can be anything except what it first appears to be: a love story. Phuong is as much an object as she is a mystery to both men, and this is integral to reading the novel.
yes an absolute classic. the way the story is told, the British journalist in french Vietnam, the progression of the story. the deep yet sarcastic love affair and the not-so-quiet American. just a great subtle critique on society by taking it to another country and seeing how certain countrymen would act in such situations. read in 2005 when I was 19 and moved.
I didn't like this as much as my other excursions into "Greene-land." It's certainly a prescient novel, about Vietnam and the folly of American meddling in the world, published in 1955 (!). This was long before the adventures of the CIA and other US interventionists were fully known - in places like Guatemala and Iran and Congo. But "Quiet" wants to be more than just a political tract; Greene also wants it to be a character study AND a faith novel, like "The Power and the Glory." There's too much going on in only 180 pages, and Greene has too many axes to grind to get them all sharp. Moreover, the eponymous character is too much of a straw man to be credible; Graham Greene wants so badly to make his point about the wrong-ness of the United States that he doesn't bother to flesh Pyle out. I liked the movie better!
SO, SO, SO ENTHUSIASTICALLY GOOD verging on the cusp of Great. Greene has a way of crystallizing a huge typhoon of a colonial conflict into the small, petty, whole-hearted machinations of a small trio. He's an exquisitely careful writer who whittles away, perfecting all the small gradations of hurt and cruelty. Granted, the story can feel a touch musty but Greene manages to make you feel a big, gushy, raw pulsating empathy for every single character. That's not easy. PS: We can have a big, brawling, fisticuffs discussion of Greene's characterization of Phuong! I know sometimes it comes off as queasy and greasy but I will argue! Loudly! That Greene knows exaaaactly what he's doing and her quietness and isolation is a sort of protective opaqueness and, what's more, really stems more from his narrator's inability to poke through her defenses. She's impregnable! Not shallow!
A layered and intricate novel that makes you want to weep in its prescience regarding the fate of Viet Nam in the following decades. On the one hand a story of a love triangle and a murder, on the other The Quiet American is a political treatise against the dangers of naive idealism. Both the eponymous American, Pyle, and our British narrator, Fowler, are flawed and troubled individuals, although in wildly different ways. Fowler is an upper-middle class snob whose dislike of the presence of Americans is a metaphor for Europe's reaction to the decline of their empires, rather than an objective critique of American policy in Indochina. Pyle's flaws become glaringly clear throughout the book.This is a book that will stay with you; I'm drawn in to debating with myself how Anti-American Greene really intended the book to be and to what extent such Anti-Americanism is a by-product of Fowler's warped worldview.It's a short read, and I would definitely recommend it.
Thomas Fowler is a middle-aged British journalist who has been living in Saigon for a number of years to report on the French Indochina War. He's left behind a wife in England from whom he's been separated for a long time, though she refuses him a divorce on religious grounds. This shouldn't be a problem for his current lover, twenty-year-old Phuong, who doesn't ask for anything and is content to live with Fowler and prepare his opium pipes, but Phuong's older sister wants her to get married to secure her future. Then a young idealistic American called Alden Pyle appears on the scene, makes friends with Fowler, and also falls in love with Phuong and decides to ask her in marriage. When the novel opens, Pyle has been found murdered, and Fowler proceeds to recount his relationship with the young man and their conflicts, both political and personal, which have somehow led to the young man's death. I can't say I was taken with this novel. It's tone was very serious and it had quite a plodding pace. The love story, such as it was, was obviously on the forefront of the narrator's mind, but the real story was about the war and the conflict between the French colonists, the communists who wanted to oust them, and the foreigners who were either there to report the war and bent on not getting involved, like Fowler, or on the contrary, invested in bringing about change according to their own agenda, like Pyle. My own disinterest in politics is to blame for my lack of appreciation here, as I can objectively say it's a very good novel, but it didn't quite satisfy this reader. This tidbit from wikipedia was quite interesting: "The book draws on Greene's experiences as a war correspondent for The Times and Le Figaro in French Indochina 1951-1954. He was apparently inspired to write The Quiet American in October 1951 while driving back to Saigon from the Ben Tre province. He was accompanied by an American aid worker who lectured him about finding a ¿third force in Vietnam¿. Greene spent three years writing the novel, which foreshadowed US involvement in Vietnam long before it became publicly known. The book was the initial reason for Graham Greene being under constant surveillance by US intelligence agencies from the 1950s until his death in 1991, according to documents obtained in 2002 by The Guardian newspaper under the US Freedom of Information Act."
The central, and most interesting, character of Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" isn't Alden Pyle, the young Bostonian who gives this novel it's name. I'd argue that Greene gave us a better example of the "American type" in "The Comedians," anyway. The real center of this story is Thomas Fowler, the cynical, war-weary, and increasingly lonely British war correspondent who serves as this novel's narrator. He's a study in alienation, cut off from his culture, his better self, and, increasingly, the people he knows in wartime Saigon. Fowler seems eager enough to relate his experience to the reader, but, like, say, Meursault, who narrates Camus's "The Plauge," he's too reserved, and perhaps too stereotypically male, to freely impart the true depth of his feelings. Anyhow, Greene, who referred to himself as a "film man," is too plainspoken and direct a writer to want to delve too deeply into his characters' consciousnesses. It's impressive, then, just how much feeling he packs into this brief, rather spartan novel. Every element of Fowler's existence seems to speak to his own private anguish or illustrate something important about the decadent, dangerous twilight of French-controlled Vietnam. Greene wastes neither time nor space here, but "The Quiet American" portrays both the emotional toll of long-term solitude and the colonial experience, albeit largely from the point of view of the colonialist, as accurately as anything I've ever read. Written in the mid-fifties, "The Quiet American" also serves as a sort of tragic foreshadowing of America's own involvement in Vietnam's struggle for independence. Greene's adept at describing both Fowler and Pyle's preconceptions and prejudices about Vietnam and its people, and it's fascinating to see their understanding of the book's setting change as its plot develops. Sadly, the mistakes that drove American policy: the myth of a native, non-communist, American-approved "third force," a naive anti-colonialism, a belief in the universal appeal of democracy, seem already to have been in place a decade before the United States escalated its own war against the Vietminh. Also present, as always, is the sometimes unbridgeable space between East and West and colonizer and colonized, and, of course, the horror of war, which Greene describes with the cool, unflinching eye of a hardened correspondent. Tragic in both the political and the personal sense, "The Quiet American" is highly recommended.
It is amazing that this book was written almost a decade before America's "Viet Nam War". The story that Greene tells should have been known well enough to influence some leaders in America, but nonetheless we can read it with a freshness today that should give us pause as we move on to more foreign entanglements. This is one of Greene's best novels as he captures the atmosphere of the place and time and gives us characters that seem real with a touch of mystery and sadness.
From the top rank of Greene's oeuvre. Marginally my favourite in a Vietnam teetering on the brink in the dying days of French rule. Presages the disaster to come in his typically irascible style.
I enjoyed this story. About two men in Vietnam during the war and the woman both of them "loved".
I finished this book, and liked the author's writing. I'm not sure I really enjoyed it as much as I thought I would. It was just ok for me.