The Quiet American by Graham Greene (Review)

Someone from the 44s recommended The Quiet American by Graham Greene. I first heard of it through the movie trailer, and as it looked like a rice chaser movie (and it probably is), I declined. Why bother watching or reading a rice chaser work? Why bother watching a serious movie with Brendan Fraser? (Brendan Fraser is a great actor. But I’m never going to ever be able to look past that scene in Bedazzled where he wakes up speaking Spanish.)

This was yet another one of those books where it’s not what one might expect. I was expecting to read something about emotions regarding power differences in the French War in Vietnam, and how it affects people at the individual level. I was expecting Greene to take a macro situation and apply it to individuals living within that macro situation. I was expecting at least a little of bit of chaser-ish themes. Instead, it was exactly the opposite. Using the older British character Fowler, the young American character Pyle, and the Vietnamese Phuong, Greene tells an allegory in which the characters represent the relationships between their respective nations. This book was absolutely brilliant in how it characterizes national characters–the jaded older and physically declining Brit; the feisty, ignorant, and idealistic young American, and the compliant-and-subtly-opportunistic Asian. According to Wiki:

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 under the US Freedom of Information Act.[1][2]

It’s hard to believe that this book was published in 1955, years before America’s involvement in Vietnam played out. The writing style in this book reminded me somewhat of Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam–a short and sharp novel where the author wastes no words. Check it out.

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