Sara's Reviews > The Quiet American

The Quiet American by Graham Greene
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it was amazing
bookshelves: borrowed-from-library, historical-fiction, vietnam

The Vietnam War is an era that is all too real for me. If you lived through it, you will probably agree that, as a people, we never understood what we were doing, why we were there, or who we were “saving”. The French had already tried to remake Vietnam into a Western style democracy, and had failed entirely. This book takes place just at the passing of the baton--France has not quite given up, and America is beginning to think they have the solution.

That is the scene, but this book, as with all of Greene’s writings, is about more than its setting, it is about people. Fowler, Pyles and Phuong are representations of the three elements that are trying to mix in Vietnam, and they are as unable to do it as individuals as they were as nations. Neither of these men understands Phuong. I was struck that she was not a real or whole person to either of them and their “love” for her was as selfish as love could ever be. She, on the other hand, appears to accept them as they are, without trying overly much to understand them. I think she would tell you that they are too foreign to understand--and there is the rub, they are the foreigners, she is at home.

During one of their discussions, Fowler tells Pyle of the Vietnamese citizens: "They want enough rice,' I said, 'They don't want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don't want our white skins around telling them what they want." Fowler has been at this game long enough to understand that what the outsiders want for Vietnam is not necessarily a reflection of what the Vietnamese themselves wish for. But, while he waivers in his view from moment to moment, even he seems to see the Vietnamese as too simple and childlike to make their own choices.

Pyle is never bothered with this struggle to see them as anything other than children, however. As the romantic imperialist, he is the guy who has all the solutions if these misguided people would just step out of his way and leave him in charge. Of course, he is deluded.

"I was to see many times that look of pain and disappointment touch his eyes and mouth when reality didn't match the romantic ideas he cherished, or when someone he loved or admired dropped below the impossible standard he had set."

The essential question raised by Greene might be how much do we count? As individuals? Do some count more than others? Should one decide the fate of many? Can you witness destruction and not become involved?

Near the end of the book, Fowler asks, "How many dead colonels justify a child’s or a trishaw driver’s death when you are building a national democratic front?"

Sadly, I don’t think we have answered that question yet.
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Reading Progress

November 6, 2015 – Shelved
November 6, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
September 8, 2017 – Shelved as: borrowed-from-library
September 11, 2017 – Started Reading
September 11, 2017 –
page 63
35.0% "Part One: Well, I'm not sure I like the American at all. Pyle seems a bit clueless and out of his depth."
September 12, 2017 –
page 66
36.67% ""I was to see many times that look of pain and disappointment touch his eyes and mouth when reality didn't match the romantic ideas he cherished, or when someone he loved or admired dropped below the impossible standard he had set."

This is the general English view of the Americans at this time?"
September 12, 2017 –
page 86
47.78% ""They don't want Communism."
"They want enough rice,' I said, 'They don't want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don't want our white skins around telling them what they want."

How much we might have learned from the French in Vietnam and avoided all the loss of life that followed for Americans. Written in 1955, when the involvement of Amer was still minimal."
September 13, 2017 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
September 13, 2017 – Shelved as: vietnam
September 13, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

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message 1: by Diane (new)

Diane Barnes The only Greene book I've read was "Travels With My Aunt", which I thoroughly enjoyed, but is not a typical book from him. I think one is considered a classic. Your review makes me want to give it a try.


message 2: by Lori (new)

Lori Wonderful review, Sara!


message 3: by Candi (new) - added it

Candi Excellent review, Sara. Your review has reminded me that I need to get on the ball and read a Graham Greene book already! I have this one and a couple others on my list. Gosh, I wish I could read faster, lol :)


Sara Squeeze him in, Candi. This one is short, but he says more in 180 pages than a lot of people do in 500.


Sara Diane wrote: "The only Greene book I've read was "Travels With My Aunt", which I thoroughly enjoyed, but is not a typical book from him. I think one is considered a classic. Your review makes me want to give it ..."

I haven't read Travels With My Aunt. I have Power and the Glory on my physical bookshelf, so that will be next. I really loved The End of the Affair.


Sara Lori wrote: "Wonderful review, Sara!"

Thanks, Lori. I am planning to get back to Adam Swann tomorrow. :)


Czarny Pies I agree. The questions posed by this book have not yet been answered. This is why we still need to read it.


Sara Czarny wrote: "I agree. The questions posed by this book have not yet been answered. This is why we still need to read it."

Which is what great literature should do, raise questions that are not easy to answer.


message 9: by Cheri (new)

Cheri Excellent review, Sara!


message 10: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Thanks very much, Cheri.


Sharon Metcalf Tremendous review Sara. Am thinking of reading this one today. You've tempted me. Thanks :)


message 12: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Hope you enjoy it, Sharon. I'm a Greene fan.


message 13: by Hanneke (new) - added it

Hanneke Terrific review, Sara. History repeats itself again in the hopeless endeavours of Syria and Afghanistan. Same old thing. So depressing.


message 14: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Yes, it is depressing, because we seem to learn so little from our foreign wars.


message 15: by Hanneke (new) - added it

Hanneke Yes, that is the big mystery of it. How can people forget so soon what happened in Vietnam. Over 50,000 Americans died there and that fact never seemed to have made such an impact that it stopped those in charge repeating the same stupid mistakes.


Angela M Sara , a thoughtful review. I read this a while ago and the Vietnam war era is a time I remember for sure .


message 17: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Thank you, Angela. Those of us who lived during that time know how that war shaped an entire generation and, in fact, changed this country forever.


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