2003 April 17

"The Quiet American"

Possibly the best translation of a novel to the screen I have ever seen, falling only just short of note-perfect.

I read this book when I was in Vietnam, well, almost a year and a half ago now -- time goes by so fast. It's the strangest thing: Hanoi is drowning in pirate copies of this book. Hustlers on the street come up to you and try to sell you copies: "Postcard? Silk? Quiet American?" This is essentially all the English they know.

After the third time I was offered it, I had to buy a copy, just to see.

The story feels ripped from yesterday's headlines, almost too much so -- after all the exhausting arguments we've been through in the last year, I had to remind myself that it really was written in 1955. (The Vietnam War as we know it -- the Second Indochina War -- hadn't even started yet.) Alden Pyle is the quiet American -- naive, earnest, well-meaning, and so convinced of the necessity of his actions that he can't see anybody as anything but what he needs them to be. His foil, Thomas Fowler, is the cynical old English journalist -- detached, wise, but selfish and dissipated. The core of the movie, it seems to me, is about the choices you make in life, or try to avoid: "Sooner or later, Mr Fowler, one has to take sides, if one is to remain human."

See this movie. Or read the book: The Quiet American, Graham Greene -- that would be okay, too, and it's very short.

Katie Roiphe in Slate has an interesting commentary on what "The Quiet American" shows about how anti-Americanism has changed over the years.


I read this book and falled into this world. Everything still going around me now, It's something so strange but give me a nother way to see deeper into something was happeded in Vietnam war.

Posted by: Linh on June 29, 2003 03:19 AM

I was intrigued by this book about two years ago, and it proved to be thought provoking and brought me to a better understanding of human nature. It also struck me how fowler let things fall into place.

Posted by: wufei on October 25, 2004 09:33 PM
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