The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Relationships are complicated by human failings. It's one of British author Graham Greene's themes, and it's fair enough and true. And in Green's world a happy ending is, at best, an ambivalent one. This would explain why I have such a hard time enjoying his books.
He was a great writer. His stories often get to the heart of the matter, eventually. The problem is, he wrote so accurately about human behavior as to make his novels quite trying to one's patience. If you're looking for flawed characters making bad choices for psychologically sound reasons, at least in their own minds, well then you've come to the right shop.
The Quiet American is set during France's "Vietnam War", the one before America's. I believe it was called the First Indochina War, and it stretched from the mid '40s to the mid '50s. This book reads like a news article forecasting a coming war, for it focuses on an American militant outlier's involvement in a conflict well before the U.S. government would eventually get involved.
The story follows a British journalist covering the war, who meets a seemingly naive and mysterious American with idealized notions of what's best of the native population, and who swoops in and steals the Brit's bit of foreign good-time fluff. The American's off-the-cuff charm, the Brit's loveless love, and the aloofness of Vietnamese love interest that finishes of the love triangle, all three of these principle participants are mostly in it for themselves, for their own motives, but they are neither good nor bad people. They are just people.
The military conflict mirrors the human relationship, and the same questions can be asked of both situations: "What are you doing here?" and "Why are you interfering?"
I keep trying to enjoy Greene's books, but it just ain't happening. I mean, yeah I gave this 4 stars (it would be a 3.5 if I could use halves) because it is good writing. However, it's just never thoroughly enjoyable. There's always a certain "gloom" about his work. It's often slow, too, though it never grinds to a complete halt. However, I will continue reading Greene, because it deserves to be read.
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