Monday, May 10, 2021

29. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

I've always had positive thoughts about Graham Greene, but when I decided to read this book, I found those thoughts being challenged.  I though back to my college years when his books (and Conrad) were the only spy-type books that could be found on a liberal arts college campus.  They always seemed intriguing and I read The Ministry of Fear and maybe one other, but they didn't stick with me.  I found this one for free and thought I should educate myself.  That is when the old reaction to anti-genre fiction kicked in.  It suddenly really bugged me that his books get somehow elevated as literature and studied in academic circles while all the really good books are just ignored as "genre fiction".

And I have to say that reading this book only reinforced that feeling.  It's a good book, but feels basically like an excuse for a middle-aged white man to feel all mopey about things.  It's full of melancholy and British post-war impotency and angst about superior Americans.  The setting is fascinating and well-portrayed:  Vietnam near the end of France's colonial control and just before the Americans took over to really fuck things up.  The writing and descriptions are excellent.  The basic story is also good, an older, jaded journalist meets a young, idealistic American who honourably steals his Vietnamese mistress and honourably gets involved in espionage to tragic results.  It's just that much of the actual text is the narrator's sadness and struggles.  I guess this may be a big metaphor for the colonial transition from the old world to the new and that is sort of interesting.  So it's a good book, but I am not seeing here what gets it a sophisticated abstract illustration cover and addition to college curricula.

After some research, I will add that when it came out in 1955, it freaked the Americans out and from that perspective, Greene definitely predicted the mess they would create when they got fully involved in Vietnam.  

It did encourage me to do a bit of research into French Indochine and wow is it super complicated and wow were the French ever a bunch of bastards and yes once again the ills of today (Myanmar dictatorship) can all be traced back to Colonial intervention. 

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