The Quiet American - Graham Greene / by Usamah Khan

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I spent the last few months obsessing over historical and journalistic accounts of the Vietnam War. I decided, this time to pick up something a little different. What I ended up reading was, while a novel about Vietnam, was not a true take on the war. Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" takes place in 1955, years before the war. Graham Greene wrote it as fiction but it seems inspired by his experiences living in Vietnam. The craziest thing about the book was how prophetic it was. Greene makes it seem like a war was inevitable. The way the Americans controlled everything and believed wholeheartedly that what they were doing was for the best. He makes it clear that they were going to fail in their attempts to control these people. Simply because American ideas of 'freedom' are just not compatible around the world. Ironically, it was a British author who understood that 'Western' ideas are rarely a best fit.

The way he tackles building Alden Pyle as a character is interesting. It seems this was Greene's idea of Americans. He portray's Alden as a confident, arrogant man with a blind self-assurance that what he believed to be true was right. He also seemed to feel entitled to what he believed to be his and what he 'knew in his heart' he would be able to take care of best.

I liked how at the heart of the story, the three-way love triangle of Fowler-Pyle-Phuong was a micro representation of British American relations in Vietnam. Like the rest of the novel where all description of Vietnam and it's people is almost non-existent, Phuong is never fully explored or never let to open up. But she's at the heart of the story, the driving force for every decision made by either Fowler or Pyle.

Fowler aids in having Pyle assassinated and I think Greene did that in a kind of hope that that's what the novel would do to American interests in Vietnam. I think he wanted to make whoever was reading see that going to war in the effort of lifting the backwards locals up to western standards wouldn't actually make the situation any better. In fact, he argues against this with Fowler very clearly calling Pyle out and telling him American culture isn't for everyone. But of course, idealistic, headstrong Pyle doesn't see that at all.

The book ended up being labelled "anti-America" when it came out. So much so I heard that in the 2003 American film adaptation it was made as more of an anti-communist piece while putting Pyle in the limelight. I haven't seen it, but should give it a chance.

I left the book thinking back to Page and Herr's books. They all looked at it in hindsight as prophetic, like it was bound to happen. Everyone knew it, even the soldiers. But hindsight is always 20/20. I guess my biggest takeaway was that why didn't anyone see it coming..or did they but not care about the consequences of their actions?