Famously this novel was about the death throes of France in Vietnam. It predicted the US incursion and their policy mistakes, which underpinned their grotesque escalation implied by fighting an unwinnable war. The French were defeated by asymmetric warfare and so were the Americans. Because the Americans were richer, with more resources of all kinds, their defeat took longer. The Quiet American was a man who epitomised boyish enthusiasm, poor judgement and a willingness to endorse atrocities as a tactic.
But that wasn’t what struck me in this re-read many years after my first reading. The beautiful writing of a master at the peak of his powers with an eye so acute it cuts to the bone. That’s what struck me forcibly.
“….The lamplight made her skin the colour of dark amber as she bent over the flame with a frown of concentration, heating the paste of the opium, twirling her needle.”
“He [Pyle: the Quiet American] gazed at the milk-bar across the street and said dreamily, ‘That looks like a soda-fountain.’ I wondered what depth of homesickness lay behind his odd choice of what to observe in a scene so unfamiliar.”
World weary journalist Fowler meets naive American Pyle in a relationship made in Hell. The denouement is Fowler conniving at his murder. A metaphor for American involvement which occurred a few years after Greene’s book was published. In the US it was advertised as an anti-communist novel. A disastrous misunderstanding which sums up US involvement in Vietnam.
Greene at his absolute stunning best.