I took a graduate seminar in Graham Greene when I was getting my MA, and so I’ve read a LOT of Graham Greene. My project for that class was examining Greene’s relationship with film and cinema. One of the books I was interested in reading (but ultimately lacked the time to explore) was The Quiet American, which was made into a film in the mid-to-late 1990s. I finally got around to reading it, thanks to an audiobook request I put in through my library.
Thomas Fowler is the novel’s narrator. He’s a British journalist sent to Vietnam to document the war. He becomes enamored of the young Phuong, and immediately sets up house with her. Yet it is the arrival of Alden Pyle, the American idealist, that sets up the major conflict throughout the novel. Pyle also falls in love with Phuong and attempts to win her favor. Though Fowler sets this point up as the main conflict between himself and Pyle, we learn about the ideological differences that set the men apart. Pyle sees himself as the “good” guy who can make no wrong or unethical choice when Western freedom is involved. Thus, his diplomatic choices turn shocking, which Fowler notes, even if his own decisions are born out of convenience or indifference.
This was not my favorite Greene novel, but it certainly yields interesting insights about Vietnam and perceptions of Americans abroad. Pyle’s over-eager, earnest ambition is cringe-worthy but true-to-life. Perhaps it’s a not-so-veiled criticism of foreign policy? One note, though: the audiobook was not very good. The British narrator did well for Fowler’s voice, but he interpreted Pyle’s fast-talking nasal Boston accent as HEAVY SOUTHERN DRAAAAWL. Not at all as it should be.