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The Quiet American by Graham Greene
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The Quiet American (1955)

by Graham Greene

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Julien Green, Oeuvres complètes

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6,5251511,015 (3.97)443
This novel is a study of New World hope and innocence set in an Old World of violence. The scene is Saigon in the violent years when the French were desperately trying to hold their footing in the Far East. The principal characters are a skeptical British journalist, his attractive Vietnamese mistress, and an eager young American sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission.… (more)
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» See also 443 mentions

English (142)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  German (2)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (151)
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
I spent a lot of the novel wondering whether the novelist was a terrible racist and sexist or merely the narrator he'd created. I'm leaning towards the former. Basically the entire novel is about this battle between a cynical Briton and an optimistic yet deeply stupid American to win and retain the affections of a Vietnamese woman, Phuong, during the French occupation in the 1950s. Phuong is truly depicted as an object - the narrator claims that Vietnamese don't feel emotion as Europeans do, as if this were some justification for writing her character as a mere object of affection - and it's extremely annoying.

Like I didn't HATE the book I guess (thus two stars, not one) but I didn't like it by a long stretch... ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
The Quiet American by Graham Greene (first edition ISBN-13: 978-0670585526)

Even though it's been about sixty years since I read this novel, I remember it well. A very influential book in my life, in helping me better understand how and why we get into these messes. A soldier myself at the time, my understanding was further reinforced in seeing the 1958 Hollywood adaptation that propagandized the book in turning around its theme. (A 2002 film version was truer to the book.)

Needless to say, I thought at the time, and still do, that it's an important read. And, it's an engrossing story. ( )
  LGCullens | Apr 14, 2020 |
Graham Greene's protagonist, Thomas Fowler, imagines himself a world weary cynic, someone whose considerable past as a reporter has given him a special insight into the failures of people and peoples. He reeks of superciliousness. And the reader might be forgiven for mistaking the fictional Fowler for the real Graham Greene, as many indeed have done. But that would be to mistake content for intent. And I don't think that is what is at work, here.

What does happen is the great reveal. The revelation, that is, that Fowler, the cynic, is at heart a failed romantic who lies to himself. All his constant psychoanalyzing of others and himself is a deception. It all becomes too apparent when we find at the end that Fowler has been lying to the reader and himself throughout the novel. He is complicit in a murder and just as morally compromised as his antagonist, Pyle, the American ideologue who nonchalantly consigns Vietnamese innocents to an acceptable "body count" that will eventually bring about democracy.

This novel still carries tremendous impact because of the moral chaos that Fowler falls prey to. Ultimately, he cannot keep from involving himself in things that he, too, cannot really understand. Fowler is not the moral idiot that Pyle is, but he is the outsider who can never belong but somehow wants to belong to something. And once he thinks he finds it, he stops "reporting" and instead "corresponds" and becomes a pawn himself. Like Pyle, he attaches himself to an idea. In so doing, he has become a cut rate version of Pyle's hero, the diplomatic correspondent York Harding who "gets hold of an idea and then alters every situation to fit that idea. Pyle came out here full of York Harding's idea. Harding had been here once for a week on his way from Bangkok to Tokyo. Pyle made the mistake of putting his idea into practice. Harding wrote about a Third Force. Pyle formed one--a shoddy little bandit with two thousand men and a couple of tame tigers. He got mixed up."

Beyond the personal, The Quiet American is also one of the great political novels of any age. And, of course, as a political novel, it could not be more prescient about America's upcoming debacle in Vietnam. When all the real life York Hardings arrived by the planeload. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
The irony of this anti-American tale is that the main character, the Yankee-hating Thomas Fowler, is actually patterned after the characters in the hard-boiled school of American fiction such as the books of Raymond Chandler. The literary war has really been won by the Americans. [1956]
  GLArnold | Apr 4, 2020 |
'Innocence is a kind of madness.'

Set between March 1952 and June 1955 The Quiet American is a searing critique of the US meddling in the internal affairs of a nation and people it knows nothing about and was written by a man who was himself a correspondent in Vietnam from 1951 to 1954.

The novel is written from the perspective of Fowler, a jaded middle-aged, British foreign correspondent who has been a Saigon resident for two years. The novel opens with the death of the eponymous American diplomat Pyle and the story is then told in a series of flashbacks. Fowler and Pyle were friends but had a difficult relationship, not only were there nationalities and ages different (Pyle was in his twenties) but they also desire the same woman, Phuong. Whereas Pyle can offer Phuong marriage and the chance for her to emigrate to America Fowler already has a wife and is only looking for someone to share his bed and stop him from being alone. However, there is also a far more sinister thread, Fowler suspects Pyle of being involved in a plot to create a “Third Way” between communism and colonialism, riding roughshod over the actual needs and wants of the Vietnamese.

Greene deliberately portrays the Americans in the country as being loud and crude whereas the locals were generally quiet and affable only worried about having enough rice to feed their families so the reader very quickly gets an idea for the disconnect between the foreigners and the natives.

"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."

At the time when this book is set the Americans had not actively joined the war against the Vietminh which was being fought by the old colonial rulers France but were worried about the spread of Communism in the East and covertly looking to take stop it.

As I said at the top of this review this book is a critique of American meddling in Vietnam but it is still relevant today as when it was written not just about American foreign policy but also the other super-powers as can be seen in countries like Syria. This book therefore features the battle between cynicism and idealism, between intentions and outcomes, the toll that war takes on the morals of average citizens and how humanity is caught up in the machinations of those who think they know best and are willing to go to any end to get to where they want to be.

"Sooner or later........one has to take sides, if one is to remain human."

I think that Greene's real skill here is in his character portrayal.Fowler on one hand he is portrayed as a cynical observer (he prefers to see himself as a reporter rather than a journalist) but he is also an imperfect character with his own frailties. In contrast Pyle is young, naive and idealistic. My copy of this book had under 200 pages in length so whilst the text packs a punch the author manages to avoid sentimentalism. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Apr 4, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
Easily, with long-practiced and even astonishing skill, speaking with the voice of a British reporter who is forced, despite himself, toward political action and commitment, Greene tells a complex but compelling story of intrigue and counter-intrigue, bombing and murder. Into it is mixed the rivalry of two white men for a Vietnamese girl. These elements are all subordinate to the political thesis which they dramatize and which is stated baldly and explicitly throughout the book.
 
There are many natural storytellers in English literature, but what was rare about Greene was the control he wielded over his abundant material. Certainly one can imagine nobody who could better weave the complicated threads of war-torn Indochina into a novel as linear, as thematically compact and as enjoyable as The Quiet American
 

» Add other authors (60 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Greene, Grahamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Caddell, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
English, BillCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gorra, MichaelSuggestions for Further Readingsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lundblad, JaneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magnus, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scheepmaker, H.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, ZadieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Springer, KätheÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stingl, NikolausÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valja, JiøíTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
This is the patent age of new inventions
For killing bodies, and for saving souls,
All propagated with the best intentions. — Byron
I do not like being moved; for the will is excited, and action
Is a most dangerous thing; I tremble for something factitious,
Some malpractice of heart and illegitimate process;
We're so prone to these things, with our terrible notions of duty. — A. H. Clough
Dedication
First words
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.
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innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.
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While the French Army in Indo-China is grappling with the Vietminh, back in Saigon a young and high-minded American named Pyle begins to channel economic aid to a "Third Force."

Caught between French colonialists and the Vietminh, Fowler, the narrator and seasoned foreign correspondent, observes: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused." As young Pyle's policies blunder on into bloodshed, the older man finds it impossible to stand aside as an observer. But Fowler's motives for intervening are suspect, both to the police and to himself: for Pyle has robbed him of his Vietnamese mistress.
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