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This is an eerily prophetic and, therefore, deeply disturbing book.  Ostensibly the story of a love triangle involving a naive American spook, a jaded English journalist and a young Vietnamese girl, lurking just beneath the surface is an allegory for the whole experience of America in Vietnam.

Alden Pyle, the Quiet American of the title, was based on Col. Edward Lansdale, the renowned, or infamous depending on your politics, CIA operative who was sent to Viet Nam in the 50's to subvert the Vietminh after a string of successes in the Phillipines (he was also the model for William Lederer's and Eugene Burdicks "The Ugly American").  Pyle is an innocent who believes that others must surely share his ideals and pureness of motive.  He is convinced, based on his adherence to the writings of  York Harding, that there is a Third Way for Vietnam, somewhere between Communism and the corrupt colonial government.  He has come to Vietnam to foster a group that will adhere to this Third Way.  The journalist, Fowler, a cynical world-weary man of much wider experience, realizes that Pyle is a dangerous man because he is imposing his idealized vision on a group that is merely power hungry.  Meanwhile, Pyle has fallen in love with Phuong, Fowler's Vietnamese girlfriend.  And while Fowler can offer her little because his wife refuses to grant him a divorce, Pyle offers marriage and respectability and a life in America.    As Fowler loses Phuong to Pyle and Pyle's group begins a terror campaign, Fowler finally abandons his neutrality and chooses sides, a choice made all the more ambiguous because of his romantic rivalry with Pyle.

The prescient pessimism that pervades this book is it's most interesting feature.  Greene, writing well before we really got involved, seemed to sense that Vietnam was a tar baby that we idealistic Americans would not be able to resist embracing.  Pyle's bloody blundering seems to presage the well-intended but disastrous mess that we would make of the entire country in the decades to come.   One wishes that men like Robert McNamara and the Kennedys had paid attention to this literate warning.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

See also:

Graham Greene (6 books reviewed)
Thrillers
War
Graham Greene Links:
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (1904-1991)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: your search: "Graham Greene"
    -ESSAY:   'The Third Man' as a Story and a Film (GRAHAM GREENE, NY Times, March 19, 1950)
    -Graham Greene: THE CHESTERTONS   (NY Review of Books, Jul 21, 1983)
    -Graham Greene: THE FBI AND PEARL HARBOR   (NY Review of Books, Aug 12, 1982)
    -Graham Greene: YOU'RE WELCOME  (NY Review of Books, Nov 8, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: INFORMATION WANTED (NY Review of Books, Sep 27, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: The Great Spectacular    (NY Review of Books, Jan 26, 1978)
    -Graham Greene: The Country with Five Frontiers   (NY Review of Books, Feb 17, 1977 )
    -Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, Home Page GGBT
    -Anne Sherry Graham Greene Page
    -Graham Greene  (Biography, His Works, Other Web Resources)
    -Graham Greene
    -Greeneland: The World of Graham Greene
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (short bio, John D. Hamilton)
    -OBIT: Graham Greene, 86, Dies; Novelist of the Soul
    -Featured Author: Graham Greene With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times (NY Times Book Review)
    -CATHERINE WALSTON/GRAHAM GREENE PAPERS (Georgetown.edu)
    -ESSAY: Graham Greene's Vietnam (Tom Curry, Literary Traveler)
    -ESSAY: The (Mis)Guided Dream of Graham Greene (Robert Royal, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Why Greene fades on film (Quentin Curtis, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: ëHe knew himself as no one else didí Novelist Shirley Hazzard talks about her times with Greene on Capri (Desmond OíGrady, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: An Edwardian on the Concorde: Graham Greene as I Knew Him  (Paul Theroux, NY Times Book Review)
    -EXCERPTS: from May we Borrow Your Husband?
    -REVIEW: The Lives of Graham Greene (David Lodge, NY Review of Books)
     -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene  (NY Review of Books)
    -Book club discussion questions: End of the Affair (Warren Pages)
    -REVIEW: of The End of the Affair   Mr. Greene's Intense Art (GEORGE MAYBERRY, NY Times, October 28, 1951)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Matter  (July 11, 1948, WILLIAM DU BOIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Quiet American (March 11, 1956, ROBERT GORHAM DAVIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Quiet American by Graham Greene (C. P. Farley, Powell's)
    -REVIEW: John Bayley: God's Greene, NY Review of Books
           The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
           Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
           A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -Michael Shelden: GREENE & ANTI-SEMITISM (NY Review of Books, Sep 21, 1995)
    -Richard West: Graham Greene and 'The Quiet American' (NY Review of Books, May 16, 1991)
    -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene (NY Review of Books, May 30, 1991)
    -REVIEW:  John Bayley: God's Greene  (NY Review of Books)
        The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
        Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
        A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -REVIEW:   Joan Didion: Discovery  (NY Review of Books)
        Finding the Center: Two Narratives by V.S. Naipaul
        Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Jonathan Raban: Innocents Abroad   (NY Review of Books)
        J'Accuse: The Dark Side of Nice by Graham Greene
        Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Robert Towers: Cautionary Tale  (NY Review of Books)
        Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: Greene's Castle  (NY Review of Books)
        The Human Factor by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:   V.S. Pritchett: Rogue Poet  (NY Review of Books)
        Lord Rochester's Monkey by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: A Funny Sort of God   (NY Review of Books)
        The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
        Collected Stories by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Karl Miller: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost   (NY Review of Books)
        Midnight Oil by V.S. Pritchett
        A Sort of Life by Graham Greene
    -RESPONSE:   Graham Greene: GREENE'S MEANING   (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW:  Denis Donoghue: The Uncompleted Dossier   (NY Review of Books)
        Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
        Blind Love, and Other Stories by V.S. Pritchett
    -REVIEW:  V.S. Pritchett: A Polished Dissenter  (NY Review of Books)
        Collected Essays including The Lost Childhood by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Sybille Bedford: Tragic Comedians   (NY Review of Books)
        The Comedians by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: David Lodge: The Lives of Graham Greene   (NY Review of Books)
        Graham Greene: The Man Within by Michael Shelden
        Graham Greene: The Enemy Within by Michael Shelden
        The Life of Graham Greene Volume II, 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry
        Graham Greene: Three Lives by Anthony Mockler
        Graham Greene: Friend and Brother by Leopoldo Duran and translated by Euan Cameron
        The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews & Film Stories
    -REVIEW: of Green on Capri by Shirley Hazzard (DORIS BETTS, NANDO)
    -REVIEW: of The Life of Graham Greene; Volume III: 1955-1991 by Norman Sherr (FRANKLIN FREEMAN, Touchstone)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Vietnam Veterans Home Page
    -Imagining Vietnam (Robert Templer, Richmond Review)
    -Literature and the Vietnam War (student website)

Comments:

"...it has often been suggested that the rough-and-ready Colonel Ed Lansdale was the primary model for Pyle, the evidence suggests otherwise. Lansdale ... came to Vietnam two years after Greene had begun writing The Quiet American....In the 1960s and the 1970s Greene tried repeatedly to correct reports that Pyle was based on Lansdale, but no one wanted to believe him, especially since Lansdale was famous as the model for the protagonist in a book with a similar title, The Ugly American" (pg 399 -400.Graham Greene: The Man Within by Micheal Shelden. Mandarin Paperbacks, Minerva Edition 1995)

- roseanne mayer

- Apr-11-2004, 17:19

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