Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Quiet American [1955]

If British author Graham Greene is considered a prophet of his times, then The Quiet American, a deeply anti-war book that provided an incredible amalgamation of the personal and the political, might very well be his most prescient and powerful prophecy. It provided meditation on realism and naiveté, freedom and imperialism, and defeat of conventional might at the hands of guerrilla warfare, and raised the haunting question, “Can one really ever not take a side?” Set in French-occupied Vietnam (known as Indochina then), just after the end of WWII, amidst a bleak climate of turmoil, bloodshed, intrigue and treachery, it chronicled a complex tale of love, obsession and self-destructive ménage à trois. Thomas Fowler, the story’s narrator, is a middle-aged and deeply cynical British journalist stationed in Saigon for over 2 years. He’s in a relationship of convenience with fragile 20-year old Vietnamese girl Phuong as he can’t marry her, despite her ardent wishes, because his Catholic wife won’t grant him divorce. Enter Alden Pyle, a young, sincere and soft-spoken American who’s employed as Economic Attaché with the US Mission, a cover for CIA intended to propagate America’s political interests through subterfuge and nefarious means. The book starts with Fowler being informed by Vigot, a weary French cop, of Pyle’s assassination, and majority of the rest of the novel, narrated through non-linear flashbacks, told of their vying for Phuong, the strange association between the two men, and the stark contrast between Fowler’s raging cynicism and Pyle’s blind idealism. Greene’s mesmeric prose, with its bullet-like words, devastating usage of metaphors, wisecracks and truisms to drive home the wide array of personal and political points, lacerating wit, and brilliant evocation of the times, the grime and the violence, made this an unforgettable read. Religion and personal faith, too, were touched upon in it. That this astonishing book – at once eminently readable, deeply thought-provoking and troubling, and relevant now more than ever before – comprised only of 180-odd pages, made this all the more fascinating, and reminiscent of Animal Farm, Orwell’s astounding indictment of totalitarian Communism.

Author: Graham Greene
Genre: Romantic Noir/War/Political Thriller
Language: English
Country: UK