Richard Bon's Reviews > The Quiet American

The Quiet American by Graham Greene
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's review
Jul 22, 2012

really liked it
Read in May, 2012

This was my second experience with Greene, but I read The Human Factor so long ago, I hardly remember it. Greene’s life fascinates me and The Quiet American presents the sort of paradoxical feelings and relationships with which I imagine Greene himself would’ve struggled. Here we encounter Pyle, the American willing to sacrifice Vietnamese lives for what he considers the greater good, that American ideal centered around rational self-interest, and Fowler, the purportedly wise, old world British journalist with his manipulative, self-serving ways, his typical contempt for the American Pyle, and his own eventual willingness to allow an end to justify his means.

Two bits of narration from Fowler that struck me were:

“I cannot be at ease (and to be at ease is my chief wish) if someone else is in pain, visibly or audibly or tactually. Sometimes this is mistaken by the innocent for unselfishness, when all I am doing is sacrificing a small good – in this case postponement in attending to my hurt – for the sake of a far greater good, a peace of mind when I need think only of myself.” (105)

“Suffering is not increased by numbers: one body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.” (175)

In consideration of the above quotes, it follows that Fowler’s comfort derives at least partially from that of his friends, and that the plight of one person could equal, in his estimation, the plight of many. And yet Fowler eventually compromises his ideals, conflicted as he is over the decision, and the personal benefit he derives from his own deceitful, hurtful action, along with his justification in furthering what he believes to be a greater good, leave him happy but for a slight tinge of regret which for Fowler, seems to me about as peaceful of a result as he could’ve attained.

So it seems to me that whatever statement Greene attempted to make in this novel about America’s global political goals, he didn’t necessarily offer any alternative, in fact showing his individual British anti-hero to fall victim to the same sort of logic behind all that he seems to despise about his nemesis.

Greene’s smooth prose, which I thoroughly enjoyed on every page, may have put me over the edge to give this book five stars, but I think he could’ve dug deeper in developing Pyle and Phuong (the novel’s paper thin heroine). A very enjoyable read, though.

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