Book Review: The Quiet American by Graham Greene

quietTitle: The Quiet American
Author: Graham Greene
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library.
First line: After dinner I sat and waited for Pyle in my room over the rue Catinat: he had said, “I’ll be with you at latest by ten,” and when midnight had struck I couldn’t stay quiet any longer and went down into the street.

Alden Pyle is the title character of The Quiet American, and we are told in the first chapter that he has been murdered. Thomas Fowler, a British journalist living and working in Vietnam, tells us the story of his strange relationship with Pyle. Pyle was an American, and his exact business in Vietnam is not truly understood until the end of his tragic story. He and Fowler meet, and Pyle falls in love with Phuong, the young Vietnamese woman that Fowler is living with. The story of their love triangle plays out against a background of international intrigue and horrific violence.

This novel takes place in the ’50s, the years before the Americans enter the Vietnam War. The French are fighting the Communists, and the Vietnamese peasants are caught in the cross-fire. Greene demonstrates how naive idealism can be, how a black-and-white view of the world can lead to abuses and tragedies. Pyle truly believes that what he is doing in Vietnam is right, that the “collateral damages” are worth it in the end. His self-righteous determination to stick to his mission forces Fowler to choose sides, even though he had determined to remain disengaged, an impartial journalist. The fact that his choice also gives him the benefit of Phuong’s companionship only adds to his guilt and despair.

From the outside, The Quiet American looks like a small, simple book, but the powerful feelings it creates in the reader are anything but simple. This would be a perfect book for this year’s War Through the Generations Challenge.

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25 Responses to Book Review: The Quiet American by Graham Greene

  1. Kathleen says:

    I read this for a History of Vietnam War course in college and was so moved by the story. Your review brings back so many memories of the feelings I had after reading this and how I never really thought about our involvement in foreign countrie the same way. I would love to reread this one to see what I might think of it now…20 years later!
    .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..Reconnecting With Our Childhood Through Rereading =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kathleen – My Dad served in Vietnam, so it was especially interesting to read some of the events leading up to America’s involvement.

  2. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)
    Twitter: SavvyVerseWit
    says:

    We will get this review up on the War blog soon. Thanks for the great review…and we’ll link it to the review page.
    .-= Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)´s last blog ..Ravens by George Dawes Green (audio) =-.

  3. I haven’t heard of this book before, but it sounds interesting. I’ll have to add it to my wishlist 🙂 Because my youngest daughter is half-Vietnamese, I’m always on the look out for books relating to Vietnam, but not overly dedicated to the war.
    .-= The Kool-Aid Mom´s last blog ..Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kool-Aid Mom – this one has a lot to do with the politics leading up to the war, but is really more of a study of an ideological person and what is one person willing to do for their ideology. Fascinating stuff.

  4. Care
    Twitter: bkclubcare
    says:

    This is also a great book-to-movie combo.
    .-= Care´s last blog ..Twenty in Ten Challenge =-.

  5. JoAnn
    Twitter: lakesidemusing
    says:

    This sounds interesting! I’ve been thinking of reading more Graham Greene ever since my book club read The End of the Affair a few years ago.
    .-= JoAnn´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesdays – Nine Parts of Desire =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      JoAnn – I haven’t read anything else of his, though I definitely plan to.

  6. Kathy says:

    As I was reading your review, I was thinking it would be good for the Vietnam Challenge. It sounds so good!
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Giveaway: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt =-.

  7. Eva says:

    I didn’t realise this book was set in the 50s; that makes me much more interested in reading it! I loved Greene in high school, but I just kind of stopped reading him (I’m not even sure why). I really should get back to him!
    .-= Eva´s last blog ..Library Loot: January 13-19, 2010 =-.

  8. I need to read some Graham Greene. I started a book the other day but didn’t finish..must get back to it.
    .-= Amy @ My Friend Amy´s last blog ..Faith ‘n’ Fiction Saturday: Book Club Books =-.

  9. Anna says:

    I’m adding this book to my to-read list. You’ve made me curious about what Pyle was doing in Vietnam.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Anna – definitely a must-read, especially if you’re interested in the Vietnam War.

  10. Tom says:

    interesting.
    I’m currently trying to write a review of this book for my book reviews blog; but I’m finding it challenging to write about.
    I like your site.

  11. Mai says:

    Can anyone show me the link in order to read the whole book on the internet? Thanks very much

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Mai – I don’t think you can read it online – it’s still under copyright.

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