Graham Greene - The Quiet American
What I like the most in Graham Greene it's his capacity to take a snapshot of certain historical periods and milieu in the exact place and moment in which they were taking shape.
Come on, make up your choice. You can pick "Brighton Rock" (England immediately before WWII) and "The Third Man" (Vienna immediately after WWII) or "The Ministry of Fear" and "The End of The Affair" (both London during WWII) and you will always get a thrilling plot, a masterful writing style and a convincing setting.
Let's face it: Greene had the gift of being there "live". He had the right timing from the very beginning of his process of artistic creation.
I mean, Greene was not only writing about things he knew quite well in first person, but had the talent to put them on paper exactly when and where they could have likely happened. And this process required an extraordinary and almost journalistic ability in setting the scene for realistic and contemporary stories.
It's no coincidence that most of Greene's novels or so called "entertainments" were already on the big screen in a few years time.
Moreover, what Greene wrote have not lost its power today. Language and countries could have changed in the meantime (people are rather "busy" than "engaged"), but when I pick up a book by GG I know that it's going to carry me backwards in a specific time and place. I'm not reading a story or history, I'm in that story and history. To cut it short: Mr Greene was the greatest reporter of fiction.
What this author wrote sixty years or seventy years ago will never be outworn.
"The Quiet American" makes no exception to this pattern.
Here we have Vietnam in the 1950s when Frenchmen were still struggling to save their colony from the advance of the Vietminh. Paris was actually fighthing that conflict with a strong contribution of black people (Senegalese forces) not despising the occasional napalm over villages and bragging about victories to the foreign press. Later on, the Americans would have followed pretty much the same scheme having to cope with the more challenging Vietcong guerrilla.
In this early Vietnamese war, Greene puts Fowler, an expert and disillusioned British war correspondent, and Pyle, a younger apple pie-bred American leading an unclear business on behalf of the US government. These two will make the story. With Phuong, a Vietnamese girl perpetually offering pipes to her two eligible men, acting as tapestry and plunder. Pyle claims to love her. Fowler simply claims her.
But nothing is what it seems with Graham Greene. And the sentimental, idealistic, apparently innocuous, Quiet American Pyle who keeps on quoting his favourite book, dreaming about democracy and walking his dog will bring hard cheese on Saigon and the Briton, prefiguring the US involvement on a far larger scale. Which is something that Greene was able to smell in the Indochinese air already in 1955.
"The Quiet American" has its soft spots, of course, but they are not going to be mentioned here: too irrelevant they are.
This novel made me think and wonder as no other book recently did and I will risk no harm to it.