260 of 271 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I don't like Ike."
I can honestly say that I've spent more time thinking about the events of Graham Greene's THE QUIET AMERICAN than of any other book I've read in months. In short, this is the story of America's involvement in Vietnam, full stop. Astounding is the fact that this was written between 1952 and 1955, yet can serve as a metaphor for almost two further decades of US...
Published on July 21, 2003 by Andrew McCaffrey
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Human Drama, Not a Geopolitical Primer
Graham Greene's The Quiet American has an outsized reputation owing to its supposed prediction of the consequences of American involvement in Vietnam. I suppose that is natural as the book is set in Vietnam and was published in 1955 just as the conflict between the North and South Vietnamese was heating up, and just after President Eisenhower had sent the first American...
Published 10 months ago by M. Buzalka
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260 of 271 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I don't like Ike.",
I can honestly say that I've spent more time thinking about the events of Graham Greene's THE QUIET AMERICAN than of any other book I've read in months. In short, this is the story of America's involvement in Vietnam, full stop. Astounding is the fact that this was written between 1952 and 1955, yet can serve as a metaphor for almost two further decades of US involvement in that region.
This is no simple tale, although it can be read as one. It works on many different levels. In its simplest form, this is a story about two foreigners in Indo-China: a middle-aged British reporter, and a young idealistic American. They involve themselves in two main plots: one concerning the French Army's battle with the Vietminh, and the second, concerning the two men's relationship with a native woman and the subsequent fight for her affections. On this level, THE QUIET AMERICAN works as an effective thriller. Who is the mysterious "third force" that Pyle, the American, is aiding? Why is he even there, and why is he providing aid to this group? Will Fowler, the British journalist, abandon his policy of neutrality and enter into the conflict? Who will end up with the girl at the end?
But there are all sorts of other subtexts and subtleties going on here. Pyle isn't just "the quiet American"; he is America -- at least as far as the US's involvement in Vietnam is concerned. And the difference in age between Pyle and Fowler is no random chance. Fowler is the older man; his country has already had its expansionist, colonial period. Fowler already knows what it's like to get one's fingers burnt interfering in other people's conflicts. But Pyle won't be told. He's the young inexperienced man who has to find out for himself -- to the detriment of everyone.
This isn't just a simplistic "America = idealistic, good-hearted, but naive" or "England = experienced, weary, and impotent" view of the world. While Greene builds on several stereotypes of the Old and the New Worlds, he goes much farther beyond that. Both men desire Phuong (the Vietnamese woman), but for starkly different reasons. The woman's own interests are kept to herself deliberately. We learn far more about Pyle and Fowler simply by the way in which they view the woman. On a purely personal level, the characterization is heart-wrenching. When looked at on a national level as far as what the two men represent, it is amazingly thought provoking.
After reading THE QUIET AMERICAN, I kept replaying and rethinking a number of its scenes and breaking down the characters as much as I could. There is a lot going on here, and much of what Greene wrote about wouldn't fully come into being for a number of years after the book's publication. There are many layers of subtleties occurring in this book's pages, and while I'm certain that I have not yet caught them all, it is not through a lack of interest. This is a very powerful book, and should be on everyone's "To Read" list.
142 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As superbly written as it is insightful,
Only the great Graham Greene could have written a story that is as wry and understated as it is prophetic. "The Quiet American" captures several different attitudes during Vietnam's transition from French colonial occupation to American "involvement". In this novel the French do what they do best, namely they undertake a hopeless struggle and experience painful defeat. The Americans enter the scene with grandiose plans, tons of money, and utterly no sense of reality. The Vietnamese are, of course, hard-edged and practical, while the lone Englishman-God bless him-is the epitome of dying yet dignified colonialism.
For those of you who haven't read the book, its both an odd love story and a metaphor for American involvement in Vietnam. The hero, Fowler is a washed up, middle aged, English war correspondent, content with his opium pipe and his Vietnamese mistress, Phuong. His world is gradually disrupted by the arrival of an American covert operative named Pyle who is both a zealous ideologue and a naïve optimist. Things get complicated when Pyle steals Phuong away from Fowler, yet attempts to remain friends with him. The normally indifferent Fowler soon becomes morally repulsed by Pyle's seemingly well intended terrorist activities, and gradually becomes politically involved. By the time Fowler helps to engineer Pyle's murder it is unclear even to him whether he is doing so to help the Vietnamese people or to win Phuong back.
"The Quite American" explores several different concepts. Like many of Greene's novels and short stories it examines the peculiar morality of love. Fowler and Phuong form a strange symbiosis. Fowler is estranged from is English wife, and is old enough to be Phuong's father. His affection for her is unabashedly sexual and certainly not made for day time TV in the U.S. Phuong's attachment to both Fowler and Pyle is based more on practical reasons than on love. Greene never passes judgement any of the trio. And when Fowler wins Phuong back in the end, he is left-like so many of us-with a lingering doubt about his motives and actions.
Equally interesting is Greene's exploration of the politics of Southeast Asia in the 1950s and particularly, the shifting balance of power from European colonialism to American military and economic involvement. Pyle, who is probably based on the real life American operative, Landsdale devoutly worships the books of an intellectual whose thinking bears strong resemblance to that of George Kennan. As the French wrap up their losing streak, the Americans enter the scene with blind stupidity, you can't help but cringe at disaster to come.
I loved this book for its intelligent grasp of love and politics. Like many of Greene's other works, this one contains a genius for characterization.
87 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Set it Vietnam in the 1950s, it's a warning about the future,
Graham Greene wrote this novel in 1955. It's set in the early fifties when Vietnam was still Indo-China and there was a war raging between the French and the Vietnamese. It's obvious he's worried about the future and American involvement, and this theme resonates throughout the book as well as gives an eerie foreshadowing of what we all know happened later. At only 188 pages, it's a seemingly simple story of mystery, adventure and love. But it's also a story of a people, a place and a time as well as a warning about the future.
Thomas Fowler, the narrator, is a hardened British war correspondent. He in a relationship young Vietnamese woman named Phuong, enjoys his opium pipes, and manages to get along with his fellow correspondents. Suddenly, a young naïve American, named Alden Pyle, arrives in Vietnam, supposedly as an aid worker. When he declares his love for Phuong, the plot thickens. But this is just one facet of the story as both men are thrust into the war, viewing the meaningless deaths around them and coming very close to death themselves. Pyle's mission to Indo-China becomes increasingly suspect, and as Fowler discovers one clue after another, the conclusion is inevitable.
I was immediately drawn into the story, which sets up a mystery and keeps the reader wondering until the very end. At the same time, the three main characters are deeply developed, not only as to their individualisms, but also as to their national character. The British correspondent takes a caustic view of the world; the American is effusive and idealistic, and the Vietnamese woman is stoic. They move around in a Vietnam where the French are fast losing their hold, and everyone knows that change is going to happen.
I loved this book. Every word reverberated with a truth that existed when it was written, and which proved to be a prophesy of things to come. It also enriched my understanding of the dark period in history that followed. Highly recommended.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing piece,
(This review refers to the Viking Critical Library edition, edited by John Clark Pratt)
Graham Greene's novel of Pyle, the "quiet American", employed by a barely-disguised fronting organisation of the CIA, narrated by Fowler, a British journalist who comes across by turns as weary and worldly, is immensely interesting. In it, Greene offers up perhaps his most incisive and insightful political commentary, treating the danger of allowing people guided solely by ideology and schools of academic thought to be responsible for intelligence fieldwork. Pyle, a graduate of Harvard, goes into Indochina, believing intensely in the necessity of enabling a "third column", General The's men, and employing them as an American proxy force.
Whether or not Pyle himself sees the implicit incompatibility of this abstract idea and reality is never quite clear: certainly Pyle plays witness to the destruction that his attempts to mobilise a third column bring about. He is not subject, though, to the gross revulsion at the wanton destruction of life that Fowler is. Equally certainly, Pyle's political views cost him his life: open to question, still, is whether or not Pyle himself was ever conscious of his fallacies, or if he remains blinded throughout. Rather than being a novel of a man's moral revelations, or telling of his relationship with the Divine, "The Quiet American" is far more a parable.
Greene's structure, his combined simplicity and complexity, and the thematic relevance of this novel, render it a deserving read. Additionally, the chronologies and commentaries upon foreign involvement in Indochina/Vietnam are both valuable and blessedly concise, and the collected reviews and critcal commentaries upon the novel serve as valuable tool for understanding.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can you give MORE than 5 stars???,
I'd heard of this book for years just as "Greene's Vietnam novel," without knowing when it was written or anything else about it. So when I saw it in a bookstore in Saigon at the conclusion of a three-week tour of Vietnam in 1997, it seemed appropriate to snap it up, and I started reading it in a cafe not too far from the street where Fowler had his flat (now renamed, of course, but I don't remember what the new name is). So maybe that's why it had such an intense effect on me, but I was absolutely stunned by it. It really pulled me into a feeling of what it might have been like to be in Vietnam in 1954, and the characters were clearly portrayed (if not always nice). Among the fascinating things is the (relatively) sympathetic treatment of Pyle. Greene makes it clear that by any measure of "private" morality, Pyle is a much better person than Fowler, but in his political actions he is utterly, totally, completely wrong -- not from bad motives, but because he does not know what he is doing. AFter I finished it I looked at the copyright date and was stunned again to see that it was written in 1954, before the French got out of Vietnam. Hell, yes, it's a prophecy of what would happen with the US involvement there. I'd love to get my hands on whatever crystal ball Greene was using, and I wish he was still around so he could write an Afghanistan novel.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible, complete treatment of Greene's Indochina,
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The Viking Critical Library's version of Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" is an indispensible text for full appreciation of Greene's perceptions of Indochina, France's war there, and America's budding involvement. The editor, John C. Pratt carefully selects criticism of Greene's TQA that creates a complete and rich discourse on Greene's life and writings that serves as a backdrop to his novel. Added to that backdrop are histories, such as Frank Futrell's thirteen-page explanation of how the United States became involved in Vietnam, and official documents from the State Department, to interviews with former South Vietnamese generals and Ho Chi Minh.
TQA itself a wonderful book that,to an American, probes at our treasured notion high-minded idealism and our "can-do" spirit that has served us well at times and not so well at others. Greene's symbolism is telling and insightful, given that it was published well before the United States' full-blown involvement in that region of the world. While Greene relates many things that he experienced or felt in Indochina as a journalist, the book is not solely a "war novel". TQA, like many of Greene's books, takes the readers on the author's journey of personal morality and matters religious.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Naiveness and engagement,
'The Quiet American' is a well-written novel about a love triangle set against the background of the French and American involvement in Vietnam. The narrative voice is that of Thomas Fowler, a disillusioned, middle-aged English correspondent with few professional and personal prospects who tries to keep at the margin of the incidents around him--or, as he says, who tries to report those incidents without taking sides--until he is comfronted with the dilemmas represented by Alden Pyle, a naive American who has learned politics only by reading books. Those dilemmas are, on the one hand, personal, and, on the other, political: Pyle takes away Phoung, Fowler's Vietnamese girlfriend, while at the same time is engaged in shady dealings with a dubious Vietnamese general to restore 'democracy' in the country and stop the 'spread of communism'. Should Fowler continue with his life of non-engagement and let Pyle get away with his girlfriend and the havoc he is wreaking among Vietnamese civilians with his monolithic political views? As one character in the novel says, 'one has to take sides. If one is to remain human.' And Fowler, after a senseless terrorist act in which Pyle is involved (although Pyle himself thinks that it was for 'the benefit of democracy'), is forced to act. The personal and the political merge in Fowler's difficult decision--but the reader is left uncomfortable as to what Fowler's ultimate motives are.
The novel flows effortlessly from the first page to the last, both in its structure and in its prose. One often finds incisive comments and humor, and one cannot cease to be amazed at how prescient Greene's views are on the disastrous American involvement in Vietnam (the novel was written between 1952 and 1955). My only complaint about the novel is that Pyle's naiveness, although reflective of the American political position at the time, is almost caricaturesque at times, and thus detracts from his credibility as a character. Despite this, I thoroughly recommend it. It might even be an excellent tool in a political-science classroom.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some Politicians Should Have Read this book Years ago!,
In preparing for my summer trip to Vietnam a number of people suggested reading The Quiet American. The story also caught my interest when I heard film crews are currently in Vietnam shooting a remake of the film. A remake which will hopefully be more loyal to the book and its message unlike the earlier version.
Talk about foreshadowing. Greene writes and makes a strong case against American involvement in Vietnam. And he makes this case back in the 1950's towards the end of French involvement in Indochina.
The book is well written and easy to read. The story is not dated at all. I only wish President Kennedy and LBJ and their advisors had looked at this book... the books message was all too true.
The Viking critical edition comes with some awesome extra stuff including works about and by Greene, great primary sources on Vietnam, and some great background info.
As a movie buff, I enjoyed some of the writings that compared the book and the movie.
This is a book that deserves the title of classic.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 20th Century Masterpiece - Gripping & Insightful!,
Graham Greene wrote one of the best novels of the 20th century with "The Quiet American." His straightforward, elegant prose along with ample doses of irony and humor, make this novel a masterpiece. Greene's characters are extraordinarily complex and passionate beneath their seemingly quiet exteriors. Published in 1955, during the waning days of French colonialism and the beginning of American intervention in Southeast Asia, the book foreshadowed the America War in Vietnam.
Thomas Fowler, Greene's narrator, is a cynical, veteran journalist for a London newspaper based in Saigon in 1952. The dispassionate Fowler has "gone native." He has fallen in love with Vietnam and with the lovely Phoung, a one-time taxi dancer who is young enough to be his daughter. Despite the turbulent political climate, Fowler is content with filing an occasional story and living a pleasurable, carefree life. His dream is to convince his Catholic wife, back in England, to divorce him so he can live out his days idyllically with Phoung and an opium pipe in Saigon.
Enter Alden Pyle, a seemingly innocuous, naive American who is supposedly part of a medical assistance delegation sent by the US government. Pyle is a passionate advocate of an American foreign policy theorist named York Harding, who has proposed that the solution to the problems in French Indochina is a "third force," other than the French colonial government and the Vietminh insurgents currently battling for control of the country. Pyle has really come to Vietnam to foster this alternative third player - a Vietnamese strongman who would lead an American-backed government.
Fowler and Pyle meet and improbably, the jaded, world weary Brit and the earnest, patriotic American form a friendship - until Pyle intrudes in the relationship between Fowler and Phoung. Pyle falls in love with Phuong, almost at first sight. He seduces her away from Fowler with promises of marriage and a life in America. Initially, Pyle's innocence and decency were endearing to Fowler. However, with the potential loss of his lover and the increasing evidence that Pyle is involved in violent clandestine activities, Fowler's feelings toward Pyle begin to sour and the friendship becomes strained. Still Fowler strives to remain objective about the political situation and proclaims, "I don't get involved. I just report what I see".
After a car bomb in downtown Saigon kills several innocent bystanders, Fowler traces the contents of the bomb back to Pyle. He realizes that Pyle, in his fervent adherence to ideological theories, has lost his humanity. He sees Pyle as the quintessential innocent and too simplistic: "'...I had better look after Pyle.' That was my first instinct - to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. 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." And finally, Fowler is dramatically forced to take sides. He can no longer be a passive observer to the growing conflict.
Graham Greene quotes Lord Byron on one of the pages preceding the novel, "This is the patent age of new inventions/ For killing bodies, and for saving souls,/ All propagated with the best intentions." This novel is at once a powerfully prophetic commentary and a riveting thriller. Beautifully crafted.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars cynicism and innocence,
This review is from: The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (Paperback)
*The Quiet American* is a realistic story that uses what has become a classic theme: the innocent American abroad. The story is told from the point of view of Fowler, an English journalist, and a correspondent living in French Indochina, what is now known as Vietnam. There is a war going on: Communist Vietnamese are attempting to overtake the French colonials and their democratic Vietnamese underlings. As a Brit in this setting, Fowler is impartial, which suits his nature. He's not really for the French or the Democrats, but neither is he for the rebel Communists. Getting on in years, estranged from his wife who remains back in England, Fowler is a cynic with a fatalistic view of the world. He is detached and aloof from the actors in the war, and his perceceptions can be humorous, even in the face of the horrible circumstances of war.
Fowler lives with his young Vietnamese girlfriend, Phuong. He's just biding his time with her, neither eager to return to England nor interested in his job as correspondent. In fact he has even has his hired servant, Dominquez, to write brief journalistic correspondence for his home newspaper. Fowler is an opium smoker, a habit that enables him to remain in this limbo he's carved out for himself.
Enter Pyle, an American, whose zealous support of and belief in the burgeoning colonial democracy blinds him to the compexity of the causes of the war. Pyle sees the world in black and white: things are either good or bad in Pyle's view; one is either for the democracy or against it. His foil, Fowler, on the other hand, sees the gray shades of war; he understands the causes, even when they are absurd causes. In Fowler's view,war "heroes" are cold blooded killers, cowards survive, the brave are foolhardy, and whether a soldier lives or dies is purely accidental.
Pyle falls in love with Fowler's girl Phuong. Being an innocent, he approaches Fowler about it and declares his intentions. He says he can offer Phuong a proper marriage; Fowler cannot promise Phuong anything but the limbo he's created. Fowler cannot argue with Pyle's logical reasons for taking Phuong from Fowler, and though he hates Pyle for taking his girl, he has to admit she will be better off.
Pyle gets involved in distributing explosives to the democratic urban guerrillas. Pyle's activities in the war scenario parallel his actions in the love triangle with Fowler and Phuong: in the love triangle, he upsets Phuong and Fowler's relationship, taking her from Fowler. In the war setting, he enters the country and begins feeding war materials to the democracy, which uses the material in bombings in the city that kill innocent bystanders. In both of these scenarios, he's a blind intruder, seeing everything in black and white and oblivious to the subtle nuances of war or love. Fowler on the other hand sees these subjects and his role in them with much complexity. For this reason, he is the real hero of the novel. Though he is a cynic and resists choosing sides in the war, the reader appreciates his ability to accurately access the circumstances. His refusal to take sides is a personal choice and not the result of his not being able to see the situation clearly enough to choose sides. So it is in his love affair with Phuong: he detaches himself from her, letting her go to Pyle. He won't choose sides in the love affair either, even though he sees his relationship with her accurately.
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The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Graham Greene (Paperback - August 31, 2004)