Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Quiet American by Graham Greene: A book and a movie

From the back cover: In the middle of the death throes of French colonial ambitions in Indochina, a young American idealist, Pyle, begins to fund a dangerous "Third Force". Caught between French colonists and the Vietminh, Fowler, the narrator and seasoned foreign correspondent, observes of Pyle: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused." As young Pyle's policies blunder 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.

Graham Greene wrote this story in 1955 and it is described as "prophetic" because it seems to foreshadow the US becoming involved in Vietnam. The three main characters - Pyle, Fowler, and Phoung embody their countries - Pyle, the American, thinking he knows best and can manipulate the situation, Fowler, the European, not wanting to engage and take sides but feeling trapped into a decision, and Phoung, the complacent Vietnamese woman who wants to please and doesn't seem to know enough about freedom to even desire autonomy. Their interactions with each other as the love triangle plays out are fascinating.

Also interesting was the mystery of the "Third Force" which Fowler unravels. The book is fairly short - less than 200 pages. The action doesn't move quickly and it was all slightly confusing to me because I didn't know there was a French-Indochina conflict as a precursor to the US-Vietnam conflict so I was learning as I read. (Nothing new there - it's amazing that I have both a bachelor's and a master's and yet such a sloppy grip on history and geography.) If the book had been longer, I may not have made It through to the end because although I enjoyed this story, it wasn't clear enough and gripping enough to carry much more.

I thought perhaps, watching the movie would bring it a little more into focus for me. Wrong! The movie was just the same. It followed very true to the book. It was not an energetic story so the movie's pace wasn't very engaging. I was delighted to discover the beauty of Vietnam. In my incredible mixed up view of the world, I picture Vietnam as just jungle - a lush overgrown jungle. But the movie showed the elegant side of the country. The towns along the waterways with busy markets, restaurants, and fancy hotels.

This book is my "Q" for the A-Z Reading Challenge! Click on the logo to see my progress.

and this one too...
This is on my list for the Spring Reading Thing 2009. Click on the logo to see the rest of my list.


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