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Hedy Reviews “The Quiet American”

By Library Staff

There are two main plots: the French battle with the Viet Minh in Vietnam with Americans advising on the sidelines in the 1950s and a love triangle involving an older British journalist, a young American medical aid worker, and a beautiful young Vietnamese woman.  The way Greene analyzed the situation in Vietnam at that time and the predictions he made about American involvement and the ultimate outcome were so astute.  It makes one rather sad that he wasn’t heeded, but then he was only a novelist, not someone with “real power”.  His novelist words remain powerful now though–perhaps more powerful than the words of the politicians of the time.

One of the big themes in “The Quiet American” is betrayal.  This happens on many levels.  Greene loves to explore the paradoxes of human nature and our legalistic definitions of right and wrong–which is not always the same as the moralistic definitions of good and evil.  His sense of place is exquisite.  His prose is spare and elegant–without flashiness, but also without flaws.  He’s fascinated with the precariousness of identity.  When the book was published some Americans were outraged because they thought it was anti-American, portraying them as materialistic and naive with little understanding of other cultures.  That is a good topic for discussion.

It wouldn’t hurt to see the movie starring Michael Caine who received a best actor Oscar nomination.  I saw it when it first came out in 2002 and thought it was okay.  I watched it again recently just after reading the book and enjoyed the complexity and visuality of it so much more.

FIC GREE (also DVD DRAMA QUIET)  Greene, Graham. “The Quiet American”, 1955, 180 pages