“The Quiet American” is a book that has it all: a love story, a novel about war and it is also a political novel. The book takes place in Vietnam in 1950s where there is a colonial war between the Vietminh and France. The main character, Thomas Fowler is a British journalist, reporting from the war in Indo-China.
The retrospective technique is frequently used in this novel. The story starts with the shocking fact that Pyle, the friend (and enemy) of Thomas Fowler has been found killed. Both Fowler and Pyle’s (and Fowler’s) girlfriend Phuong are both shocked over the news. Luckily the reader gets a chance to get to know Pyle better. In the next chapter we are back to the past, and we are introduced to the story about Pyle.
Thomas Fowler is a cynical man with many thoughts in his head. He has doubts of the existence of God, and that is perhaps the main reason he has problems with his wife in England which has other views on religion. He gets into a relationship with a Vietnamese girl, Phuong, which is uncomplicated until the American diplomat Alden Pyle comes into the picture. The book continues with the struggle between Pyle and Fowler to have Phuong. Thomas Fowler is an elderly man who just wants someone to be with, he doesn’t wants to be alone. The much younger and more successful Pyle is looking for someone he can marry, and is perhaps then a better choice for Phuong who the main goal is for to get married to someone with a good job and a stabile economy (at least according to her sister miss Hei).
Pyle is apparently an American diplomat in Vietnam, but we soon understand that it is more to it. Pyle is a CIA agent supporting a mysterious “third force” which goal is to steer the war in the most positive way seen from American eyes. Fowler discovers among other things that Pyle has been providing an opposition group of the Vietminh materials to make explosives.
We also get to hear from the activities in the colonial war. The reader joins Pyle and Fowler escaping from Vietminh and we also join a French napalm air strike. In this way the reader gets a feeling of how it is to be in those kinds of situations. At the same time Graham Greene also tells the reader his opinion on certain things.
Pyle and Fowler have a rather strange friendship. On one side they fight about the same woman, they disagree on most things and they are two completely different persons. On the other hand they are forced to be together in many situations, and then a strange relationship evolves. Pyle even risks his own life to save Fowler’s life.
“The Quiet American” has like many of his other books been made into a film. Actually two films has been made based on the book, in 1958 and 2002. The last film had its premiere delayed because it was said to be anti-American in the time after September 11th 2001. It was also nominated for the Academy Awards 2002.
It is no wonder why this book has been categorized as a classic. It is very well written and it is always relevant although the story is about something that happened several years ago. It is also very interesting that this book was written before the Vietnam War, and how Graham Greene manages in a way to foresee this war coming. This book is both a love story, a war story and a political novel, but I think it is the political aspect of the book that will be remembered and makes this book a classic.