Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Quiet American, Graham Greene

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.

I read Travels With My Aunt over the summer, and I really loved it. The basic plot-line of The Quiet American"'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."

The plot doesn't sound that interesting perhaps, but it really is gripping. It combines the confusion of that period in history in Vietnam with Fowler's own problems and struggles. The story begins when Pyle doesn't show up to meet Fowler, for he is discovered dead. Then, Greene recounts the two men's history together: their meeting, Pyle falling in love with Phuong, and subsequent adventures. 

The two men are quite different. Fowler is "seasoned and cynical", very smart, but getting old and rather fed up with the world. Pyle is young and idealistic, full of big ideas and hopes for Democracy with a capital D. But he really has no idea what he's doing, and is constantly making mistakes. The tension and somehow the friendship between these two very different people is portrayed amazingly. This is another extremely well-crafted novel by Graham Greene. I look forward to reading more of his highly varied work in the future (I know I'll be reviewing Our Man in Havana soon). 

Read The Quiet American:
  • if you like Graham Greene
  • if you like historical fiction/classics
  • if you like books set in Vietnam
  • if you like British fiction
189 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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