Quiet American by Graham Greene

Quiet American by Graham Greene

Quiet American by Graham Greene is a thought-provoking novel set against the backdrop of 1950s Vietnam, a time of French colonialism and the burgeoning involvement of the United States in what would later escalate into the Vietnam War. Authored by English writer Graham Greene, the narrative unfolds through the eyes of Thomas Fowler, a British foreign correspondent who has been covering the conflict in Vietnam for over two years.

The story delves into the complexities of political intrigue, love, and morality, as Fowler becomes entangled with Alden Pyle, an idealistic American CIA agent working undercover. Pyle’s character embodies the American interventionist spirit, driven by the belief in a ‘Third Force’ that could govern Vietnam free from the influences of both colonialism and communism—a concept he derived from the writings of a scholar named York Harding, whom he idolizes.

A significant subplot of the novel revolves around a love triangle involving Fowler, Pyle, and Phuong, a young Vietnamese woman. Phuong’s character represents personal desires and survival amidst the chaos of war, as she navigates her relationships with the two men based on her own pragmatic interests.

Greene’s work is a scathing critique of American foreign policy, particularly the covert operations conducted by the CIA to counteract communism in Southeast Asia. The author suggests that such interventions, though often carried out with a sense of American exceptionalism and idealism, lead to political instability and suffering for the local populace. The novel also explores the themes of neutrality and impartiality, as Fowler grapples with his own detachment and the moral dilemmas posed by the war and his relationships.

The title “The Quiet American” itself is a grim joke referring to the notion that “the only quiet American is a dead American,” highlighting the death of Pyle and the silence that follows his misguided actions. The book’s foresight into the outcomes of the Vietnam War and its commentary on American foreign policy have made it a subject of much discussion and analysis.

What I Liked

I figured I’d like this book, but I liked it even more than I thought. It was different than I expected – more nuanced, slow, and focused on individuals than I thought. I definitely plan on reading it again.

What I Did Not Like

Not to give any spoilers, but the plot is pretty plodding until the last few pages…when everything happens.

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